BBC: Who can stop India WhatsApp lynchings?

5 July, 2018

This BBC news article is a reminder of how increasing global connectivity can create misinformation and harm. There is a massive issue of health literacy and the ability to distinguish 'good' from 'bad' information as the world becomes more connected. This applies to false rumours of child abuse, leading to murders of innocent people, through to false rumours about how to prevent and treat disease (such as the Ebola crisis in West Aftica), contributing to avoidable suffering and death.

Extract below. Full text here:

'India's government has asked messaging service WhatsApp to act urgently to halt the spread of "irresponsible and explosive messages" on its platform after a spate of deadly attacks. But will it have any effect, asks the BBC's Ayeshea Perera.

'The statement comes amid a spate of mob lynchings that have killed at least 17 people across India in the last three months. Media reports put the number of dead higher.

'The violence has been blamed on rumours of child kidnappings, spread over WhatsApp, which have led people to attack strangers. Police say it is proving hard to get people to believe that the messages are false.

'In one of the most recent lynchings, in the north-eastern state of Tripura, the victim was a man employed by local government officials to go around villages with a loudspeaker, asking locals not to believe the rumours being spread on social media...'

"Suddenly people from rural areas in particular are inundated with information and are unable to distinguish what is real from what is not. They tend to believe whatever is sent to them," Pratik Sinha, the founder of fact-checking website Alt news, told the BBC in an earlier interview...

'With an estimated 200 million users, India is WhatsApp's biggest market... Because it is primarily a personal messaging app, people are more inclined to believe information they receive through it, because it comes to them via family and friends. Therefore, the inclination to double check is very low.

'This is only going to get worse when India adds its next 300 million internet users in the next three years, technology analyst Prasanto K Roy told the BBC. They will be non-English speakers, and most will be lower down the socio-economic pyramid with lower levels of literacy, he says...

'The government seems to be out of its depth. Law and order officials apparently are at a loss over how to deal with messages going viral on WhatsApp, and or how to engage with technology companies to get them to do something...'


Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children:

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 18,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on five global forums in three languages. He also currently chairs the Dgroups Foundation (, which supports 800 communities of practice on international development, health and social justice. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: