Rainpada, India, used to be a sleepy, close-knit community.
Now it’s almost a ghost town.
A few months ago the locals, who are all active users of WhatsApp, began to hear stories about strangers coming into tribal hamlets like Rainpada and kidnapping children.
According to Buzzfeed News, the rumours instantly created an atmosphere of fear and an intolerance of outsiders.
Then on July 1, 2018, five men from the Nathpandhi Davri Gosavi community — a nomadic group — tried to pass through the village.
They were set upon by the locals, who, according to the Hindustan Times, stoned the men, and thrashed them with sticks and chappals, before lynching them in the village council building.
The brutal murders left behind a 6-foot puddle of blood.
Most of the young men involved fled the village, while the others were rounded up and arrested by the local police force.
“Our men have left their homes since Sunday and there is no contact with them since. Only the women and a few elderly people are left here now,” Dagubai Gaikwad, 72, told the Hindustan Times.
Without the younger, stronger members of the community, many of the older villagers are struggling to leave their homes. As First Post reports, they don’t have access to food or even clean drinking water.
The local school is eerily quiet. Animals roam freely around the village.
The 28 men accused of the crime, who are now awaiting trial, all admit to participating in the attack.
As Buzzfeed News reports, they don’t regret their actions, because they thought they were protecting their village.
“Our clients’ position is that they genuinely thought that the five people were child kidnappers because they had been seeing this kind of information on WhatsApp for months,” Akshay Sagar and Manoj Khairnar, the accused lawyers told the publication.
“They said that as long as their children are safe, they have no regrets.”
The village that was once home to 750 people will never be the same. And sadly, this story is not uncommon.
In June, fueled by social media rumours and fake news, a mob of hundreds lynched a 29-year-old man and his friend as they were passing through a village in Karbi Anglong.
Two weeks after the Rainpada incident, an IT worker was stoned to death in the South Indian village of Murki.
According to Buzzfeed News, 29 people have died in India as a result of WhatsApp-incited violence since May this year.
WhatsApp, along with the Indian government, are now working to stop the spread of fake rumours and misinformation on the social media platform.
They hope there will never again be an incident as brutal, and as bloody, as Rainpada.