Beware: WhatsApp and Facebook Admins Can Go to Jail for Offensive Posts and Spreading Fake News

Varanasi order puts the onus of responsibility on group admins

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Being a group administrator of Facebook or WhatsApp group will now come with an added sense of responsibility. A new government order issued in Varanasi states that any misleading rumours or spreading of false information within a social media group or chat can lead to an FIR filed against the group administrator.

“There are several groups on social media which are named on news groups and also groups with other names which are propagating news and information which is not authentic. These are being forwarded without cross checking,” said an order issued by District Magistrate Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and Senior Superintendent of Police Nitin Tiwari.

The order puts the onus of responsibility on the group admin. It states that if a group member posts content that can cause religious disharmony and spreads false information, it is the duty of the admin to deny the offensive content and remove the content and the member from the group. If the group admin doesn’t take action, he or she will be taken to the nearest police station and legal action will be considered.

The order has also stated that content that offends religious sentiments should not be forwarded to any group or person.

The case will fall under the country’s cyber crime laws, Information Technology Act and IPC.

There are 200 million WhatsApp users in India while 166 million on Facebook. A Delhi High Court in December had ruled last year that admins cannot be held liable for content posted on a group. It is also unclear how a case will proceed since WhatsApp says it provides end-to-end encryption on chats which it claims even they can’t access. What if an offensive post is deleted and denied but a person still wants to take legal action? What if a person takes offence to something that shouldn’t ideally harm one’s sentiments? The Varanasi government order has stated that orders of Supreme Court and various high courts will serve as precedent.

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