Indian police have arrested 16 people after two men became the latest victims of hysteria over WhatsApp rumours of child kidnappers.
The men had stopped to ask directions in north-eastern Assam state when they were beaten to death by a large mob.
Rumours of child kidnappings are spreading across India over WhatsApp, and have already led to the deaths of six other people in the past month.
Police say it is proving hard to debunk the messages on social media.
“When rumours start circulating on social media, it takes some time to stop them completely,” senior police official Mukesh Agarwal told BBC Hindi’s Dilip Kumar Sharma, adding that police were watching various social media sites to try to stop the spread of the messages.
The two latest victims have been identified as Nilotpal Das, an audio engineer and Abijeet Nath, a digital artist – both residents of Guwahati, the largest city in Assam.
Police say the two were attacked when they stopped at a village to ask for directions.
A video of the attack went viral over the weekend, where one of the men can be seen pleading for his life. On Sunday, students and activists filled the streets of Guwahati to protest against the killings.
The state government has said it has dedicated special control rooms to counter rumours as well as provide awareness drives to prevent panic spreading in the region.
It is not clear when and how the rumours started, but India has seen sporadic incidents of mob justice and vigilantism in the past.
In some cases, doctored video messages showing children being snatched from streets have gone viral, prompting locals to beat up any one who looks unfamiliar or cannot speak the regional language.
Deaths linked to WhatsApp rumours
April: A man in the southern state of Tamil Nadu is beaten to death by a mob after he is seen aimlessly wandering the streets
- A 55-year old woman in Tamil Nadu is lynched for giving sweets to children; police arrest 30 people
- A man in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh is lynched for speaking Hindi and not the local language, Telugu
- A man in neighbouring Telengana is killed by a mob while entering a mango orchard at night
- Another man in Telengana is lynched when visiting a village to see his relatives
- A man in the southern city of Bangalore is tied up with rope and beaten to death with cricket bats, allegedly for distributing chocolates to children
June: Two men are lynched in north-eastern Assam after stopping their car to ask for directions