July 2 (UPI) -- Five lynchings have occurred in rural India that were prompted by rumors of child abductions that were spread by the social media platform WhatsApp, officials said.
The five dead, found in western India's Maharashtra state, were part of a nomadic clan that was passing through the area. One had spoken to a young girl amid rumors of a child abduction ring in the area, which stemmed from the WhatsApp messaging service. Officials said villagers gathered at a bazaar Sunday to question the group.
"Since the villagers were not satisfied with their answers, they took the men to a room and started beating them with bamboo sticks and stones," police official M. Ramkumar told BBC News.
Villagers in Rainpada also attacked police officers when they arrived to investigate, officials said. The village is now under curfew.
Stories that were spread on WhatsApp in India, which detailed false child abductions, have resulted in numerous recent incidents and deaths. In May, a woman was lynched in Tamil Nadu and a man in Andhra Pradesh state. In June, two men were killed after stopping to ask for directions in Assam state.
There have been 13 lynching victims in the past two months and 27 arrests, officials said.
"This is a very serious and unfortunate incident," Maharashtra legislator Dada Bhuse said. "We'll take strict action against the accused and against those who spread these rumors."
Officials in India are urging people to discount rumors they read on social media.
A June rally in Hyderabad involved residents and police matching together and chanting, "Don't believe the rumors."
Other authorities have established social media control posts to monitor news and viral messages, and police in Telangana state have arrested people accused of circulating phony news online.