WhatsApp and Facebook group admins, here’s what the Varanasi order means for you

The District Magistrate of Varanasi recently issued an administrative order stating that an administrator of a group on WhatsApp or Facebook is “liable for prosecution if any rumour or fake news is circulated.”

Fake news has been in the news a lot these past few months, coming to prominence in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s election and the rioting in Jammu and Kashmir.

District Magistrate Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and Senior Superintendent of Police, Nitin Tiwari are reported to have issued the order, which states that any fake news, rumour or misleading bit of information spread on social media could lead to an FIR (First Information Report) against the group’s administrator, reports PTI.

As reported by PTI, the order apparently states that group admins should be prepared to bear responsibility for posts on the group, that any fake news, rumour, etc., needs to be reported to the police as soon as possible and that only those members personally known to the administrator must be included.

Cyber law legal

The order adds that if the group admin doesn’t take strict action against posts and members of the group who are guilty of posting harmful content, the admin will be considered guilty and charged as per the law.

Since the order was issued by a district magistrate in Varanasi, the jurisdiction would normally be limited only to the geographical limits of Varanasi. However, Asheeta Regidi, a lawyer who specialises in cyber law, tells us that in the case of cybercrime, jurisdictions are treated differently. So long as the offending piece of news can be accessed in Varanasi, the group administrator is liable. The group administrator need not be physically present in Varanasi for the order to be applicable to him.

Since we don’t have access to the full order yet, the exact implications are unclear. However, we can take an educated guess as to its impact based on historical data.

For example, if you’re an admin of a group based in Mumbai that posted something that adversely affected Varanasi and someone filed a case against you in Varanasi, you will face charges in Varanasi and you might actually go to jail.

The Delhi High Court also passed a judgement on the same issue and took the exact opposite stance, but that might not save you since the Delhi HC’s jurisdiction doesn’t extend to Varanasi.

Taking the above example again, if an FIR was filed against you in both the Delhi HC and the Varanasi District Court for a harmful post made on a group that you moderate, you will have to resolve the matter in both courts. The Delhi High Court will set you free, but the Varanasi District Court might still have you thrown in jail.

Your only hope, if any, is to plead the Delhi HC judgement and hope that the District Court in Varanasi is more sympathetic.

Updated Date: Apr 21, 2017 13:14 PM