A temple in Tamil Nadu, a Southern state in India where fake news is spreading on WhatsApp. Photo: NurPhoto via Getty Images

Murderous mobs have killed multiple innocent people in India after they were misled by fake news on WhatsApp, reports the New York Times.

The big picture: WhatsApp has 250 million users in India, many of whom live in rural areas and are new to technology. Those rural users are often susceptible to being fooled by false or fear-mongering information that's quickly forwarded or shared to large groups on WhatsApp.

Details, per the Times:

  • One woman and her family were stopped, stripped naked and beaten by a mob while they were driving to a temple in Tamil Nadu, a Southern state in India.
  • The mob that attacked the family falsely believed them to be "child lifters." The woman died as a result of the attack, and her son-in-law remains in a coma.
  • Police have arrested 46 people for the attack on the woman's family and are still looking for an additional 74.
  • Another attack occurred on Friday. A software engineer was killed for giving chocolates to schoolchildren.
  • "WhatsApp said it was horrified by the killings," the Times reports. "Last week, it began labeling all forwarded messages. It also took out newspaper ads to educate people about misinformation and pledged to work more closely with police and independent fact-checkers."

The bottom line: Much of the fake information that's pushing mobs to murder is about children being harmed, which is a real concern in India. But social messaging apps are helping rumors and false information spread so quickly that companies and authorities are struggling to keep order.

Go deeper

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus — COVID-19 looms over White House Halloween celebrations
  2. Health: Fauci says maybe we should mandate masks if people don't wear them — America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19
  3. World: Polish President Andrzej Duda tests positive for COVID-19.

Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus

Marc Short with Katie Miller, Vice President Pence's communications director, in March. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times via Reuters

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday and is quarantining, according to a White House statement.

Why it matters: Short is Pence's closest aide, and was one of the most powerful forces on the White House coronavirus task force.

6 hours ago - World

Opposition leader Leopoldo López flees Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo López outside the Spanish embassy in Caracas, in 2019. Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Leopoldo López, a former political prisoner and prominent Venezuelan opposition leader, has left the country, his Popular Will party confirmed in a statement Saturday.

Why it matters: He's been an influential force in the push to oust President Nicolás Maduro's regime and a mentor to opposition leader Juan Guaidó. He'd been in the Spanish ambassador's Caracas residence since escaping house arrest in April 2019 following a failed military uprising.