Twenty-seven people have been arrested after two men were beaten to death by a mob following false social media reports suggesting they were child kidnappers, police in India said.
Abhijit Nath and Nilotpal Das, both 30, were attacked by a group of men in the Karbi Anglong district of the northeastern state of Assam.
A rumor that child kidnappers were operating in the mainly rural area had been circulating on WhatsApp and Facebook groups for days, police told CNN. The black SUV the victims were using was forced to stop and Nath and Das were attacked, police said.
“Some people had seen the vehicle coming and a few people in the village said that the car might be being used to kidnap children. The two victims had stopped in the area. It was a normal visit,” said Assam police Director General Kuldhar Saikia.
“The news spread just like that. The rumor was that some child abductors would come and take their child and they just though that this car was being used to lift children.”
The two men were dead when police arrived at the scene on Friday, authorities said. Activists gathered on Monday in Assam’s largest city, Guwahati, to demand justice for the victims.
A graphic video of the incident, in which one of the victims is seen covered in blood and pleading for his life, went viral on social media over the weekend.
Police also arrested 25 people for allegedly spreading the kidnapping rumors on social media, Saikia said. It is not the first time that false reports on WhatsApp and Facebook have fueled hysteria in India.
In May, a transgender woman was killed and three others seriously injured in Hyderabad over rumors they were part of a child kidnapping gang.
One day before the transgender attack, a man with mental health problems was beaten up in Pahadishareef, also in southern Hyderabad, over the same rumor.
Police confirmed there was no basis for those allegations.
Hyderabad police were trying to stop the violence with their own social media campaign using the hashtags #HyderabadKillsRumors and #LetThisGoViral, along with workshops to educate the public.
CNN’s Swati Gupta reported from Delhi and Gianluca Mezzofiore reported from London.