At last Facebook has brought us back to the middle ages, just as we knew it would. A woman in the Brazilian city Guarujá, near São Paolo, was beaten to death last week after Facebook rumors circulated that she was a witch.
A local news outlet, Guarujá Alerta, posted a rumor on its Facebook page that Fabiane Maria de Jesus was kidnapping children for black magic rituals. They included a picture of the woman, who was subsequently beaten to death by people who had read about her online. One of them even filmed the beating (you can see the video here — but be warned that it is very disturbing).
De Jesus was a housewife in her early thirties, and police say she has no criminal record and has not ever been reported for kidnapping. Guarujá Alerta has taken down the post about her from their Facebook page, but page administrators told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo that they were merely passing along the story as a "rumor" and that they couldn't be held responsible.
This is just an extreme example of how the social relationships made possible online are in many ways the same as the old ones. Rumors on Facebook can result in a lynching — just the way rumors in villages resulted in lynchings during the Inquisition. If you're still convinced that social media will create a more beautiful and egalitarian future for humanity, just remember that the wisdom of crowds sometimes ends in the public beating of an innocent woman for witchcraft.
Read more in Folha de São Paolo