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WhatsApp group admin arrested in Maharashtra; who’s liable for content?


An administrator of a WhatsApp group along with three others have been arrested in Latur district in Maharashtra last week over objectionable content of videos of cow slaughtering and criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reports The New Indian Express.

A Press Trust of India report said that the four were arrested by the police under sections 153 of the IPC (promoting enmity and ill will),  section 34 and section 67 of IT Act, 2000. Section 67 of the IT Act deals with obscene content transmitted in electronic media and section 34 deals with the roles of Certifying Authorities.

It needs to be pointed out that WhatsApp administrators, who don’t really have control over the flow of content in a group, could perhaps be covered under Section 79 of the IT Act which gives them some immunity from the law as intermediaries. Note that when Section 66A was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in  March, the apex court also said an intermediary needs a court order or a government order for getting content taken down. At the same time, the court also upheld Section 69 which allows the government to block websites.

Other recent examples

– In August, two youths were arrested by police in Chhattisgarh following a complaint against the admin of a WhatsApp group. The complaint was filed by a member of the group after an inappropriate video of Mahatma Gandhi was circulated.

– An admin of a WhatsApp group in Nagpur was arrested in June for hurting religious sentiments. Again, in this case the complaint was filed by a member of the group.

– Facebook had blocked and has now unblocked the Facebook page Indian Atheists the page wrote in a post on its website. Although the page is up again, it is not clear why Facebook had blocked the page in the first place.

– In June, Facebook had blocked and unblocked the Facebook page Indian Atheists. It was not clear why Facebook had blocked the page in the first place. The page regularly publishes articles from the media about religion, homeopathy, alternative medicines and topics with respect to minorities in India.

– In November last year, the Facebook page of the controversial ‘Kiss of Love’ protest wasblocked along with the profile pages of all 15 administrators and a related Facebook group FreeThinkers. The page was subsequently reinstated, however Facebook did not provide any information as to why the page was blocked in the first place and then later reinstated.

Some issues with WhatsApp’s admin rules

WhatsApp’s rules and regulations on groups state that if the last admin leaves the group, a new admin will be randomly assigned. In these cases, the new admin might not be willing to regulate members of the group and yet will be still liable. In such cases, the police fail to locate the person responsible for generating these posts and admins are held liable for the action of group members.

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