Vigilante justice may seem like an admirable cause in Mexico, where certain law enforcement officers cooperate with organized crime units, but sometimes innocent people pay the price.
Justice seekers missed the mark August 29 when residents of Acatlán in Puebla wrongfully accused two men of abducting children to harvest their organs.
It all began when 21-year-old Ricardo Flores (an aspiring lawyer) and his 43-year-old uncle Alberto Flores (a farmer) were spotted at a nearby elementary school in the neighboring community of San Vicente Boqueron,
Some reports say the two were “suspiciously” drinking in their van parked outside the school, which prompted one neighbor to call the police.
According to reports, Ricardo was simply visiting family in Acatlán and helping his uncle complete the construction of a water well before authorities accused them of “disturbing the peace.”
Although police said that these men hadn’t committed any actual crimes, local residents were convinced that they were responsible for the disappearances of three minors and the subsequent harvesting of their organs based on WhatsApp chain messages.
The messages warned of kidnappers involved in organ trafficking, saying that, “In the past few days, children aged four, eight and 14 have disappeared and some of these kids have been found dead with signs that their organs were removed. Their abdomens had been cut open and were empty.”
Eventually brought into the station as minor offenders, Ricardo and Alberto ended up being dragged out of the facility where they were severely beaten, doused in gasoline and set on fire — all while crowd members recorded the event on their cell phones.
Five townspeople have reportedly been charged with instigating the mob violence while four others are supposedly on the run.
This isn’t the first case of vigilante violence in Mexico, a country where 63 percent of Internet users are concerned about the circulation of fake news, according to a 2018 report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Moreover, due to similar incidents in countries like India and Sri Lanka, WhatsApp contends they’re actively trying to curb the spread of misinformation to prevent further acts of vigilante violence.
These efforts include adding a label to forwarded messages and collaborating more with tech companies, civil society groups and governments to remove inaccurate or violent content.
At least ten state governments throughout Mexico have also begun campaigns to better inform citizens about the influx of fake news surrounding child abductions.
This effort has gained a lot of momentum in Mexico City where individuals can now contact law enforcement via WhatsApp to verify the validity of stories, which in turn helps police gather evidence.