A recent spate of violence and xenophobia in South Africa has been unlike any other before – but those from the Subcontinent can recognize the pattern. The violence was directed against other African nationalities and seems to have stemmed from rumor mongering over social media platform. A picture of a burning building – blamed on foreign arsonists – whipped the South African crowds into a frenzy, but once the violence died down it emerged that the picture was really showing a burning building in Surat, India.

Coincidence as this may be, the significance of the connection was not lost on anyone; the Indian style WhatsApp-based fake news phenomenon is spreading outside the Subcontinent, and it is bringing its horrific consequences with it.

South Africa is not the only African nation which has witnessed such campaigns; public anger has been digitally stoked in place like Nigeria and Uganda as well, leading to deadly unrest in both places. While fake news has been around for a while, it is its directed misuse – in developing countries with weak law enforcement mechanisms –which has caused the most trouble. Elections come once every few years, but it seems the fake news machine does not shut off in the meanwhile.

The internet is awash with fake news, doctored images and edited videos, and it is getting difficult to distinguish what is true from false. It took news organizations in Africa many days before it could fact check the claims, and by that time the damage had been done. India too has similar stories, the faked picture of the Pulwama bomber with the main opposition leader spread like wildfire before it was debunked, and even still the news of the debunking did not reach the same number of people.

This malaise is spreading, and developing countries will be impacted the most. Beyond being individually discerning and responsible about what we share online, it is time to push these giant tech companies to sit up and take notice.