Legal consequences of being whatsapp group admin

Are you a WhatsApp group admin? Tough job, keeping your flock together and disciplined. If you are too strict, they leave the group and if you are liberal, they can post anything from anywhere. Be it fake news, hatred, nudity and even sex. So, in that case, who is responsible for this and what are its legal consequences?

Of late, you must have come across some message, especially on Corona related news item that no one is allowed to post anything on Corona and if that is not followed strictly, then both the admin as well as the person, who has posted the same could be arrested.

In particular, the Office of Special Inspector General of Police, Maharashtra Cyber has issued an advisory warning that admins of WhatsApp groups along with users could be punished for posting objectionable content on WhatsApp groups.

Even prior to this advisory, there have been media reports that focused on the liability of WhatsApp Group admins for objectionable messages sent by members of the group. The reports also quoted opinions by a few experts who claimed that WhatsApp Group admins are intermediaries and have to comply with the guidelines and rules applicable to intermediaries to claim safe-harbour protection.

Police may be trying to deal with the problem of fake news by making admin, responsible for this but this has no legal basis and is abject mockery of criminal law of the land.

There is no law by which an admin of any messaging service can be held liable for a post made by a member in the group. The advisory by the police in this regard is illegal.

The admin of a WhatsApp group cannot be vicariously liable for any act by a member of the group. There is no master-servant or a principal-agent relationship between the admin of a WhatsApp group and its member.

No intermediary liability

There also seems to be an attempt at creating confusion on the aspect of secondary liability by holding that a WhatsApp Group admin can be considered to be an Intermediary.

A WhatsApp group admin does not have any power to moderate or to censor messages in a group. He does not receive or transmit any record or provide any service with respect to such record. Yes, the service provider, viz., WhatsApp is an intermediary. The telecom provider that provides a connection enabling the user to connect to WhatsApp servers is an intermediary. However, no amount of convoluted legal interpretation will make a WhatsApp group admin an intermediary.

There have been instances of WhatsApp group admins being the target of police actions in certain cases involving misleading messages shared in WhatsApp groups. These are often due to the ignorance of the police officers regarding the medium as well as the relevant laws.

The writer is Partner, Supreme Law International, Delhi and Dubai. The information provided does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available in this article is for general informational purposes only.

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