(SKY NEWS) – A woman has been killed and dozens hurt in mob attacks after a false rumour spread on WhatsApp that child abductors were at large.
Around 100 people attacked the victim and three other women in Ahmedabad, a city in the state of Gujarat.
The violence comes after increasing concern about the consequences of fake news on Facebook and other platforms.
Police spokesman JA Rathwa said: “Half a dozen people surrounded the women as they were about to board an autorickshaw and started questioning them.
“Soon the crowd swelled and pulled Shantadevi Nath and her companions out of the rickshaw and started thrashing them.
“People in the crowd rained punches and kicked the four women. Some even hit them with sticks and pulled them by their hair.”
Local traffic police intervened and the women were rescued and taken to hospital but Ms Nath, 45, was declared dead on arrival.
Six people were injured in two separate incidents about 120 miles (190km) away in Rajkot, including a family of five who were visiting relatives.
In two assaults in Surat, in the south of Gujarat, five women were attacked and a 45-year-old woman was assaulted after it was suspected she had kidnapped her own toddler.
A police officer said: “It was a mostly male crowd which took away her daughter as they suspected her to be a kidnapper.
“Both of them were brought to the police station where it became clear that she was indeed the child’s mother.”
In another incident in Nagpur, Satish Bhaykre, 21, was beaten by a mob.
The false message, which went viral, said: “Guys please be on high alert. Three kids were kidnapped from my friend’s area this morning. There were 10 guys giving biscuits… Parents pls be on high alert.”
Attacks have been filmed and posted on social media and some have been aired on India’s many rolling TV channels.
Police are so concerned they have issued an official warning urging people not to “get carried away by fake social media messages”.
Nikhil Pahwa, the editor of news and analysis website Medianama, said police must raise their game by tracking social media and responding quickly to false rumours.