WhatsApp and Facebook admins can now get arrested for any fake news that gets shared on their group. The severe punishment has been issued by a joint order from Varanasi’s district magistrate and police chief.
Fake news, morphed photos, and offensive videos are pretty common on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook where there’s limited oversight on what gets posted. Some of these could even trigger communal tension in a place.
The new ruling is meant to address this concern, stating that an FIR can be filed against an administrator if any factually incorrect, rumor-mongering or misleading information is posted on their group. The order goes directly against a Delhi High Court verdict last year which decreed that admins can’t be held responsible for content shared by others.
The Varanasi order doesn’t address what will happen in groups with multiple admins. As per the decision’s guidelines, the administrator must only include members whom they know personally. If any person posts a fake rumor or a statement that can cause religious disharmony, the admin is supposed to deny it and remove that individual from the group.
Admins also have to report offending posts to the nearest police station so that action can be enforced against the person circulating the falsehoods. Administrators who don’t take any action will be considered guilty. Violating these guidelines could result in a case being filed under cyber crime laws, the Information Technology Act, and the Indian Penal Code.
Blaming admins for what participants post on a group is a bit of a stretch considering they can’t always keep an eye on what’s fake and what isn’t given the deluge of forwards common in most gatherings. Moreover, PTI points out that the Varanasi police is facing a severe staff crunch, making it difficult to carry out the order effectively.
Directives are apparently being issued to WhatsApp and Facebook group administrators and members right now. The former has over 200 million users in India, while the latter has 166 million.