WhatsApp group admins, breathe easy: Delhi HC says you’re not liable for content in groups

Shrabonti Bagchi December 18, 2016 3 min

Group admins of online social media groups will not be held liable for content posted by other members on their groups, the Delhi High Court said recently in a ruling, Legally India reported.

In a recent order, the Delhi High Court maintained that group admins could not be held responsible for material distributed by individuals who happen to be members of groups started or administrated by them.

The question came up before the HC in a matter related to cases where admins of two groups on Telegram and Google Groups were sued for defamation. The Court seemed to recognise that it would be too much to ask the administrators of groups to monitor and censor content posted by other members, commenting that holding an administrator liable would be equivalent to holding the “manufacturer of the newsprint” liable for the defamatory statements in a newspaper.

Three WhatsApp group administrators were arrested for material posted by third parties in their groups in 2015-16

In its annual ‘Freedom on the Net’ report for 2016, global human rights watchdog Freedom House details that in 2016, “multiple people were arrested across India for online speech, including seventeen for content distributed on WhatsApp.” This includes three WhatsApp group administrators who were arrested for material posted by third parties in their groups, the report notes. In October 2015, four members of a WhatsApp group, including the administrator, had been arrested in Maharashtra’s Latur district for “objectionable content and video clips” under various sections of the IT Act, 2000.

In fact, in April 2016, two separate state governments in India had issued directives making social media group administrators liable for content disseminated by other members of the group.

The complainant had said that the admin had “failed to take action against a member” who was circulating obscene posts about her.

In a separate incident in August 2016, a WhatsApp group admin from Maharashtra had approached the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court requesting the quashing of an FIR against him registered by a police station in Gondia district, acting on the complaint of a woman who said lewd messages about her were being circulated in a WhatsApp group run by the admin. The complainant had said that the admin had “failed to take action against a member” who was circulating obscene posts about her.

In an interesting report on this topic, the Centre for Internet and Society had noted: “… Group admins have been arrested under Section 153A (of the IT Act) on the ground that a group admin and a member posting content on a chat group that is actionable under this provision have common intention to post such content on the group. But would this hold true when for instance, a group admin creates a chat group for posting lawful content (say, for matchmaking purposes) and a member of the chat group posts content which is actionable under law (say, posting a video abusing Dalit women)?”

The Delhi HC has shed some clarity on this complex question with this ruling.

“The Court reasoned that at the time of making the group, the administrators could not expect members to make defamatory statements. Further, the Court took into account the fact that the statements posted did not require the administrator’s approval. Consequently, the Court found no reason to hold the administrator responsible,” concludes Legally India.


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