WhatsApp seems to have become the SMS replacement for most people in India - at least ones that have a smartphone capable of running the app. And if you are anything like us, you are in all probability part of multiple WhatsApp groups, where you receive dozens, if not hundreds, of messages every day. Now most of these WhatsApp messages are harmless - or annoying, depending upon your perspective - forwards, but we've all received 'news' stories that don't quite sound right, but we end up forwarding them to another WhatsApp group anyway because they seem interesting at the time. If you've been in this position before, you should think twice before doing something like this again, as this action could land you, and the admin of the group where you share that message, in trouble.
PTI reports that a joint order issued by Varanasi District Magistrate Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and Senior Superintendent of Police Nitin Tiwari says that any factually incorrect, rumour or misleading information on a social media group could result in an FIR against the group administrator.
If any statement is made by a group member which is fake, can cause religious disharmony, or rumour, the group admin must deny it on the group and remove the member from the group, the order said.
"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," it said. Such a post must also be reported to the nearest police station so that action can be taken against the member under the law, it added.
Considering this issue, directives are being issued to social media groups, WhatsApp and Facebook group administrators and members, the order said. It directed that social media group administrators should be ready to bear the responsibility and ownership of the groups. The administrator must include only those members who are personally known to him or her, the order added.
"There are several groups on social media which are named on news groups and also groups with other names which are propagating news and information which is not authentic. These are being forwarded without cross checking," it said.
The order, issued on Wednesday, says while freedom of expression on social media is important, it also comes with a responsibility.
The administration has directed that no statement or post which can hurt religious sentiments should be forwarded to any other group or person else legal action will be taken.
It also directs that case under cyber crime law, Information Technology Act and IPC will be filed in case of violation of these guidelines.
The order also makes it clear that orders of the Supreme Court and various high courts will be considered while initiating action.
Written with PTI inputs