• Controversial posts on WhatsApp and Facebook may land the group admin in trouble

    April 21, 2017

    Concerns are often raised regarding fake news, morphed photos and offensive videos circulated on social media that can potentially trigger tension and even communal conflict.

    To address this, Varanasi DM Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and SP Nitin Tiwari issued a joint order that said an FIR can be lodged against a group administrator if factually incorrect, rumour or misleading information is circulated on his/her social media group. Any offensive post, rumours or fake news circulated through WhatsApp or Facebook groups can land the group admin in jail. “While freedom of expression on social media is important, it also comes with a responsibility,” the order said.

    “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,” the joint order stated.

    The order stated that social media group administrators should be prepared to bear the responsibility and ownership of the groups. The administrator is advised to include only those members who are personally known to him or her. If any statement is made by a group member which is fake or can cause religious disharmony, the group admin must deny it on the group and remove the member from the group.

    “In the event of inaction from the group admin, he or she will be considered guilty and action will be taken against the group admin,” the order stated. Such a post must also be reported to the nearest police station so that action can be taken against the member as per the law.

    A case under cyber crime law, Information Technology Act and Indian Penal Code will be filed in case of violation of these guidelines. The order also made it clear that orders of Supreme Court and various high courts will be considered while initiating action.

    Social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook allow users to create a group on which members can share views, photographs or videos. However, with no explicit law in place to govern these, the liability of group administrators has remained ambiguous. A Delhi High Court order in December last year however had ruled that admins cannot be held liable for content posted by any other member of the group.

    There are over 200 million WhatsApp users in India while Facebook has 166 million. Directives are being issued to social media groups, WhatsApp and Facebook group administrators and members, the order said. 

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