A three-pronged strategy to deal with child-lifting rumours on social media

Further, Madhya Pradesh police were supported by the local print- and electronic media by way of creating awareness.

A three-pronged strategy has helped the Madhya Pradesh police rein in child-lifting rumours on social media and a growing trend of mob thrashings based on the suspicion of child-lifting, said a police official.

The strategies: pushing counter messages for the rumours of child-lifting on social media platforms; sending out advisories asking users to verify the rumours first; and in case of suspicion, lodging a complaint through the ‘Dial-100’. Further, the Police Department was supported by the local print- and electronic media by way of creating awareness.

The situation seemed out of control in July when around 40 such incidents were reported in three weeks. As a pre-emptive measure, the State police issued advisories to the district level to allay the fear triggered due to rumour-mongering, Kailash Makwana, Additional Director General of Police, Intelligence Wing, said.

As a result, just three or four cases were reported during August, he said. What triggered the fear of child-lifting in the first place was when on July 16, the charred body of a three-year-old boy was found wrapped in a blanket just at a stone’s throw from his house in Bhopal.

“Rumours were mainly spread on the social media platforms including WhatsApp, not only in Madhya Pradesh but also in the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan where many were lynched based on suspicion. Fortunately, no deaths were reported,” he said. The States have coordinated efforts to deal with the situation, he added, and the Madhya Pradesh police had suggested that others emulate its strategy.

To arrest the trend, the State police adopted the three-pronged approach, including the complaint to ‘Dial-100’ service.

Mr. Makwana had earlier told The Hindu that often, information was construed out of context and cobbled together to stoke fear among people. For instance, in July, a photograph along with an audio clip were doing rounds on WhatsApp asking people to beware of child-lifters. In the clip, two persons were heard talking about catching 10-12 children, while the photo showed some handcuffed men standing next to police personnel.

“We found that the clip was actually of two pig breeders talking about catching piglets in Dewas district and the photograph showed some pickpockets who were caught by the police in Ratlam district,” he explained.

The thrashings didn’t acquire a communal colour and rumours stoking didn’t emanate from a single source, said Mr. Makwana.

In July, as parents became wary of sending children, especially girls, to school due to rumours, attendance in secondary schools across the State had dropped by 15%. Narrating their supposed encounters with child-lifters, students had said they wore “military dress” and prowled on the village outskirts during the day, to strike at night opportunely.

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