Posts misleadingly claim 'four-year-old died in Sri Lanka crash'

·3 min read

Four images have been shared in multiple Facebook posts that claim a four-year-old child and his father were killed after a motorcycle collided with an SUV in northwestern Sri Lanka. This is misleading: while local media reported that a motorcyclist died in a road accident in the town of Kuliyapitiya on May 1, police told AFP that no children were killed in the crash. The images were originally shared by a community Facebook page that posts updates on traffic accidents, alongside a report that one man died in the crash.

The misleading claim was shared here on Facebook on May 1, 2022.

The post includes four images that show a vehicle set on fire and part of a crashed motorcycle.

The Sinhala-language caption translates to English in part as: "A young man and a four-year-old (father and son) were killed this (01) afternoon when a Defender driven by an underage driver collided with a motorbike in front of the Kuliyapitiya Kanadulla Maha Vidyalaya.

"The villagers, enraged by the incident, set fire to the Defender," the caption continues, referring to the make of the vehicle, purportedly a Land Rover Defender.

Kuliyapitiya is a town in northwestern Sri Lanka.

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on May 3, 2022

An identical claim was shared dozens of times in multiple Facebook posts -- including here and here.

The posts were shared within hours of a road accident that local media reported here.

According to the report, a 39-year-old motorcyclist died in an accident with an SUV driven by a 14-year-old and residents then set the car on fire.

Local police and reporters said residents set fire to the expensive SUV in protest, assuming the wealthy driver would be able to avoid punishment for the accident.

Tensions are running high in Sri Lanka, which has seen weeks of protest over its worst economic downturn since independence in 1948. Residents are facing severe shortages, inflation and lengthy power blackouts.

No child fatality

Multiple sources told AFP that no child was involved in the accident.

"There was only one death and that was the individual who ride the motorbike at the time of the crash. Claim of the death of a four year old is inaccurate," an officer at the Kuliyapitiya Police Station told AFP.

Regional journalist Asanka Balasooriya, who was at the scene of the accident on May 4, confirmed the crash did not claim the life of a four-year-old.

"Only the deceased individual had been riding the motorbike at the time of the accident. He succumbed to the injuries within minutes. There was no four-year-old involved in the accident," Asanka told AFP.

Keyword searches found other local media reported that a motorcyclist was killed in the crash here and here, but did not say a four-year-old child had died.

Community Facebook page

The images in the misleading posts were originally shared here on a community Facebook page called Drive Safely Sri Lanka, which shares updates on traffic accidents.

A post on the page dated May 1 notes the death of a motorcyclist but does not mention a four-year-old.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the images shared in the misleading post (left) and the photos from Drive Safely Sri Lanka (right):

Screenshot comparison of the images shared in the misleading post (left) and the photos from Drive Safely Sri Lanka (right)

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