Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district has passed an order (on 1 March) which mandates that group admins of all “public or community WhatsApp groups” register with the DC’s office. The order mentions Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but only seems to focus on WhatsApp groups. According to the order, rumor-mongering by ‘anti-social elements’, and the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections 2019 are behind the clampdown.
MediaNama was unable to independently verify this order.
In #Kashmir #whatsapp group admins are being asked to “register” the groups with authorities.This apparently is being done to prevent rumours etc before #2019LokSabhaelections.Will other states authorities take similar steps.Intersting to see how will “IT cells” respond. pic.twitter.com/ieIGSd1XVA
— Azaan Javaid (@AzaanJavaid) March 3, 2019
What the order states
- Media Monitoring Committee: A Media Certification and Monitoring Committee has been formed by the district deputy commissioner’s office to “monitor distribution of content on all media platforms including social media” to prohibit spread of unconfirmed/fake news. The MCMC will also maintain a “conducive environment for free and fair elections”. The order does not specify if this committee is formed for the entire state or just for Kupwara district.
- Registration of “public” groups: All “public/community” WhatsApp group in Kupwara have to be registered with the Deputy Commissioner’s office within 15 days of issuing the order.
- The group admin must include only those members whom he/she personally knows.
- Deleting false messages: The group admin shall take a screenshot of any fake/baseless statement which has the potential to cause religious disharmony, or rumour. The group member shall remove the message immediately “along with a suitable clarification,” and also remove the group member who has sent such messages. However, it is unclear exactly when WhatsApp allows admins to delete messages just for themselves and for all group members.
- Reporting false messages: All false posts and uploads must be reported to the nearest Police station immediately with screenshots and “other evidence” so that police can act against the sender.
- Admin to be held liable for inaction: If the group admin fails to act, he/she will be considered an abettor in connivance with the offender, and will be liable for penal action.
- Admin liable for untoward incidents caused by false info on WhatsApp group: The admin will be held liable in case false information spreading through their WhatsApp group or Facebook page leads to any untoward incidents, law & order situation, or disturbance in public tranquility.
- Restriction on government employees: Government employees serving in Kupwara district must refrain from making any comments or remarks about the government’s policies and decisions on WhatsApp groups and Facebook Pages running in Kupwara. Strict action will be initiated against government employees violating the Civil Service & Employees Conduct Rules.
Social media block, internet shutdowns in J&K
In 2017, the Indian government had banned 22 social media apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram in Jammu & Kashmir for a month. At the time, two United Nation human rights experts had called on India to restore access to the social media services. Jammu & Kashmir has seen the highest number of internet shutdowns in the country, per SFLC’s internet shutdown tracker:
- 13 out of 20 internet shutdowns in 2019 so far
- 65 of all 135 internet shutdowns in 2018
- 138 of the 292 internet shutdowns in the country since 2012 have been in the state