The Political Psychology of Lynching: WhatsApp Rumors, Anti-Government Appeals, and Violence



Across the world, violence-inducing rumors about crime have triggered spectacular displays of violence. We argue that, in addition to other components, appeals to the untrustworthiness of government authorities constitute a central component of the DNA of violence-inducing rumors. Indeed, a component that allows those circulating rumors to persuade individuals of their credibility and importance. To test this hypothesis, we conducted an original laboratory experiment among students in a rural community in Mexico. We find evidence that appeals to the untrustworthiness of government increase citizens’ perceptions of the credibility, importance and shareability of the message. Further, we find individuals perceiving rumors as more credible, important, and sharable to be more likely to incite others to commit violence against alleged criminals when given a chance. The results of this study have broad implications for our understanding of the psychology of rumor sharing and the emergence of extralegal violence.



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