The Nagaland government has blocked all internet and mobile data services in the state to stop the circulation of videos and images of the lynching of Syed Sarif, reports The Times of India. Sarif, who allegedly raped his wife’s cousin, was dragged out and paraded naked and was lynched by a mob. His body was then hanged from the city tower.

Videos and pictures related to the lynching went viral and the government instructed all mobile operators to block SMS and MMS services to curb tensions in the area. “We have asked service providers to block all internet and mobile data services from 6pm on Saturday for 48 hours. We want to stop circulation of the images and videos of the lynching, as these might escalate tensions,” Nagaland Police Dimapur range IGP Wabang Jamir said.

Mob justice and social media

Right now, people are armed with some of the most sophisticated communication technologies and can disseminate information literally at the click of a button. We’ve seen many instances of harassment against women being captured on video and being used to shame the men behind them. In a recent video of  public shaming,  a young woman used her smartphone to shoot video of a man sitting behind her on an IndiGo airline flight who tried to grope her between the seats.

However, often viral videos such as this can have varying versions as indicated in the Rohtak sisters episode. In late November 2014, a video went viral on the internet in India which showed sisters, Pooja and Aarti from Kharkhauda, fighting three men on a moving Haryana Roadways bus near Rohtak, Haryana. The sisters were lauded for their bravery and even received felicitations from the government fortheir actions.  However, a few days later a second video emerged which cast doubts on the sisters’ actions and that their actions might have been staged. The girls’ version of the story was also put in further doubt after they failed a polygraph test.

There are also incidents where Twitter and WhatsApp users were called on for help in identifying perpetrators of a rape who were caught on a video.

Incidents such as this is a moral minefield which could easily fan public outrage into mob justice,  not to mention which could also be used to spread lies and rumours. Indeed the Mumbai Police had to call for calm and urged people not to believe WhatsApp forwards recently. This particular WhatsApp message said that a gang of nearly 1,500 women has been making kids unconscious using chloroform in Vasai-Virar suburbs in Mumbai and then kidnapping them. Subsequent messages were even accompanied by photographs of a woman, claiming that she had been caught in Vasai while trying to kidnap children using chloroform.