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Varanasi judge says WhatsApp group admins can be liable for content: report

A local court in Varanasi warned that any factually incorrect, rumour or misleading information on a social media groups can result in an FIR against the group administrator, PTI reports. The order issued by Yogeshwar Ram Mishra, Varanasi district magistrate, and Nitin Tiwari, Varanasi superintendent of police goes on to state: In the event of inaction from the group admin, he or she will be considered guilty and action will be taken against the group administrator. Such a post must also be reported to the nearest police station so that action can be taken against the member under the law.

The latest advisory follows a slew of orders issued by State and district authorities in the past to regulate conversations on WhatsApp groups.

Earlier this month, district authorities in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district issued similar orders, which went on to say: Case will be registered against the group admin under IT Act, Cyber Act and Indian Penal Code if he or she does not act against members of the group sharing misleading content.

Similarly, a mandate by the district magistrate of Kupwara district of Jammu & Kashmir in April held group admins responsible for all posts on their groups. In August, two youths were arrested by police in Chhattisgarh following a complaint against the admin of a WhatsApp group.

Intermediary liability

Note that in December 2016, the Delhi High Court had dismissed a civil suit for defamation against an admin of a social media group, stating that an admin cannot be made liable for defamatory statements made by any other members of the group. 

WhatsApp administrators have no control on the flow of content in a group and can, at best, be considered intermediaries who have legal immunity under Section 79A of the IT Act, which states: An intermediary shall not be liable for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him.

Moreover, WhatsApp’s rules and regulations on groups state that if a group administrator leaves the group, the group will be randomly assigned a new administrator. In such cases, the new administrator, who was assigned the role by Whatsapp, will be still liable.

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