A violent murder in a Brazilian beach town shows the danger of rumours on social media.
As in communities across the world, people in Guaruja, near Sao Paulo, often get their news fix from local Facebook pages rather than newspapers. Guaruja Alerta is one of the most popular, with more than 50,000 likes. But a series of posts on the page has now been blamed for a terrible murder.
On Saturday, Fabiane Maria de Jesus, a 33-year-old mother of two, was attacked by a mob using stones and heavy sticks and then – shockingly – lynched in broad daylight. This gruesome attack was filmed by people on their phones and posted online. De Jesus died from her injuries on Monday, and her lawyers allege that the Guaruja Alerta Facebook page was responsible for her killing.
Why do they blame the Facebook page? For weeks, rumours had been circulating in the town about a woman kidnapping local children to perform voodoo rituals on them. The stories were posted on the Facebook page, despite the fact that the people running the page were told by police that the rumours weren’t true. The rumours alleged the kidnapper was always carrying a Bible. De Jesus was carrying a Bible on the day she was attacked, and was seen giving a banana to a child. “We don’t think the owner of the Facebook page is a murderer,” De Jesus’ lawyer, Airton Sinto, told BBC Trending. “We think he is an irresponsible person who should take responsibility for what he has done.”
The administrators of the Facebook page say they did post the police’s statement – that there were no reported kidnappings of any children – on their Facebook page. But they admit they did not take down their earlier posts and continued discussing the rumours. Their lawyers told BBC Trending that those who blame the Facebook site “are looking for the wrong people” – and that blame lies only with the mob who attacked her.
Local police chief Ricardo Lara told BBC Trending that it’s too early to be sure whether De Jesus’ murder was linked to the false stories of a “voodoo kidnapper”, but a man arrested for the crime has admitted he had heard the rumours. At the moment, there is no law in Brazil that would criminalise spreading rumours on social media. The events in Guaraja might change that though, as there is now a national debate in Brazil on the issue.