Administrators if WhatsApp and other social media platforms can now be jailed for spreading rumours, offensive posts and fake news as it has now been made a criminal offense, at least in Varanasi.
Authorities had faced issues on many occasions when fake news and rumours spread over platforms like WhatsApp, caused communal and regional tensions to flare up. Administrators of any groups which spread damaging rumours whether on WhatsApp, Facebook, or other social media, would now be liable for prosecution.
Varanasi district magistrate Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and senior superintendent of Police Nitin Tiwari had issued a joint order stating that any factually incorrect, rumour or misleading information on a social media group could result in an FIR against the administrator.
"There are several groups on social media which are named on newsgroups and also groups with other names which are propagating news and information which is not authentic," the order stated. "These are being forwarded without cross checking."
"Directives are being issued to social media groups, WhatsApp and Facebook group administrators and members."
India had over 200 million WhatsApp users, and the order called for all group administrators to be responsible and self-police their chats. "The administrator must include only those members who are personally known to him or her," the order said, adding that it was the administrator's duty to remove offensive chats before they could spread, and report them to the nearest police station.
Administrators would now need to monitor what everyone was posting and as soon as something false was identified, make clear that it was wrong and remove the person from the group. They would also need to inform the police about the misleading information.
Failure to do so would make them liable to be held responsible for propagation of the fake news, the officials suggested. They must also not allow statements that could hurt religious people to be posted on such groups.