WhatsApp has overhauled its popular ‘groups’ features as part of the newest update on both its Android and iPhone app. The Facebook-owned instant messaging platform has introduced protection so that users can’t be repeatedly added to groups they’ve left. These features are available for Android and iPhone.

Following are some other updates:

  • Group description: A short blurb found under group info that allows you to set the purpose, guidelines, or topics for the group. When a new person joins a group, the description will show up at the top of the chat.
  • Admin controls: In group settings, there’s now a control that allows admins to restrict who can change the group’s subject, icon, and description.
  • Group catch up: When you’ve been away from a group chat, quickly catch up on messages that mention or reply to you by tapping on a new @ button that appears at the bottom right corner of the chat.
  • Participant search: Find anyone in a group by searching for participants on the group info page.
  • Admins can now remove admin permissions of group members (including creator, we tested on one of our WhatsApp groups). However, WhatsApp said in its blog that group creators can no longer be removed from the group they started.

Whatsapp admins are legally more liable now?

These developments essentially allow group creators to exercise more control over their groups but remember that great power comes with great responsibility, it also entails greater accountability. In terms of legal responsibility India, giving Whatsapp admins more power means that Law Enforcement Agencies might hold them accountable.

Last year, Police Chief and a District Magistrate in Varanasi issued an order saying that“ There are several groups on social media which are named on newsgroups and also groups with other names which are propagating news and information which is not authentic. These are being forwarded without cross-checking”, and “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”.

Before that, 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. Before that, two youths were arrested by police in Chhattisgarh following a complaint against the admin of a WhatsApp group.

However, Section 79 of the IT Act protects intermediaries, such as administrators of Whatsapp groups, on the grounds that they have no “actual knowledge” of the content. For example, an intermediary like YouTube has no actual knowledge of the content of hundreds of hours of video being uploaded every hour; an ISP has no actual knowledge of illegal content being sent through their pipes. However, give Whatsapp admins the power to move to a restricted mode, and allow them the ability to control the posting of content on a group, and you remove the safeguard put in place.