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Messages shared on WhatsApp have been cited in a series of brutal murders in central India. Reuters

Seven men have been killed in India after spurious WhatsApp messages triggered two vicious mob attacks. The two attacks occurred in the region of Jharkhand in central India on 18 May.

Footage of one of the victims being brutally beaten to death surfaced on YouTube last week. Reports are now claiming that the vigilante attacks were sparked by unfounded rumours on the messaging app shared among villagers that children were being kidnapped by strangers.

According to the New York Times, the men killed were not guilty of any crime and were merely passing by the 500-strong mobs.

The attacks have been cited as a further demonstration of the region's judiciary struggles amid economic and social upheaval - police officers were reportedly present at the time of the assaults.

Local police denied any suggestion that scare stories of child abduction on the Facebook-owned messaging app had merit. "Not a single case of child abduction has been reported in this area," Shrikant Khotre, assistant superintendent of police in Ghatsila told New York Times.

Jharkland's deputy superintendent of police, Animesh Naithany said that an investigation was underway to uncover the source of the false messages, with a report due to be submitted "within a month."

"Rumors of children being abducted spread on WhatsApp like wildfire," he said. "Villagers started keeping vigil around their villages. Since they are an illiterate lot, they cannot differentiate between a real piece of news and a rumor."

Naithany also said that 20 of the alleged attackers had been arrested and face charges of murder and rioting.