As per reports, fallacious messages being circulated on Whatsapp asking people to not trust outsiders as they are part of a child trafficking group went viral, leaving Tamil Nadu especially Vellore, Tiruvannamalai and Tiruvallur districts, in the last few weeks in a state of fright.
Behind these seemingly irrational fears are rumours that have been spread over Whatsapp that 200 child traffickers from north India had entered Tamil Nadu and were planning to lure away children from the State. These completely unfounded rumours have, unfortunately, claimed three lives in the last three weeks, while there have been many incidents in which mobs have attacked strangers.
In the first case, a mob had beaten a man to death and hung him from a bridge in Pulicat on Wednesday last week, on the suspicion that he was a child trafficker.
In a second case, a 63-year-old woman, Rukmani was lynched by a group of villagers in Tiruvannamalai district. The incident reportedly took place when the woman was travelling to the suburbs of Tiruvannamalai with her relatives to pay a visit to her family deity.
Another man named Sanjay, a migrant from North India, was tied to an electric pole and thrashed brutally. Upon investigation, police found out that he too was a victim of the paranoia.
According to locals, police, and journalists who have been receiving these messages, the deluge of false information began in early April. Amongst the several false messages received by these residents, an audio recording did the rounds, purportedly by a man from Vellore. In the audio, an unidentified man alleges that 400 people had come to Tamil Nadu to abduct children. This warning even came with a video that allegedly showed how easily children are being picked up from the streets. The video, according to multiple sources, is old and is being misused to create panic.
These fake messages have led to unprecedented attacks across districts on anyone the public deems suspicious. Across the state, awareness drives have been undertaken by the district police to counter the false propaganda.
Opindia.com had earlier reported how a fake audio clip claiming a Bengali worker beaten up surfacing on Whatsapp claimed migrant workers from northern and eastern parts of the country were facing death threats in Kerala. This led to nearly 400 migrant workers to flee from Kozhikode in Kerala.
In Kashmir last year, as many as 300 Whatsapp groups with around 250 members in each group were being used to mobilize stone-pelter mobs against security forces. In order to curb these miscreants internet facility had to be withdrawn.
Earlier too, we had reported how social media was instrumental in twisting a news report giving it a communal angle overlooking the main issue of a frenzied mob going on a killing spree based only on rumours in Jharkhand. We tried to highlight how rogue elements in the mainstream media, who have been regularly found guilty of spreading lies, to indulge in further fear mongering by giving it a communal spin.
In today’s day and age, where social media has gained so much importance and has become an integral part of our existence, it should be used prudently as people need to realize that the effect of social media can be far more dangerous than we think.