More than 3.8 billion people use social media these days and that too actively. Spreading information, news, and rumours is not an uncommon thing to notice on these messaging platforms. Apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook are some of the most-used social media and messaging tools these days.
Everything has pros and cons. And so, has the widespread use of technology these days. On one hand, sharing information, making the society aware of what’s happening around has benefitted the world by bringing transparency in the system. However, on the other hand, there are people who intentionally or sometimes unintentionally without the knowledge of the content, share information, news, reports with other users. The quote “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” of Mark Twain is also applicable to the fake news spread via social media.
But before we understand the legal ramifications related to fake news being circulated on social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc, it is more reasonable to know what ‘fake news’ actually means. It’s a form of news consisting of disinformation or a report, presented as authoritative, of an event that never actually occurred. It is a menace not only because of the motive behind it to deceive and misinform people but also because people tend to take it seriously and act on such information.
Almost every messaging platform these days come with a feature of ‘group conversations. The idea behind this feature was to enable users to have a conversation with more than 1 person at the same time. However, you might not notice this, but slowly and steadily you have become a member of a lot of these WhatsApp or Telegram groups.
Every online messaging group has an admin or sometimes more than one admin. Usually, these are the ones who have created the group conversation and can add/remove the members. The Group Admins thus have the responsibility and the liability to ensure that the content being shared in these groups is not of obscene nature, fake, irrelevant, offensive, or inciting.
Through this article, we will analyse the legal aspect and laws associated with the content which should be shared in these group conversations and the role of group admins of these social messaging platforms.
Responsibility & Liability of Group Admins
The first question that comes in mind is why should a group admin be held responsible for the acts of a member of the group?
Well, there is still not any rock-solid argument that could give the answer and explain why do the admins end up taking the blame? However, in the majority of cases, it becomes difficult to locate the person who is responsible for generating such information. However, the fact is undisputed that it is the admins who have more power to regulate the content and the action of members of the group.
It is not an offense to receive any information. However, if the person forwards, transmits, distributes — without knowing its genuineness or otherwise — resulting in a loss or wrong done to someone, he/she may come under investigation and can also be made a party or the accused.
What you must do as an admin of messaging platforms?
• Make sure that every group member is reliable and responsible enough to share only verified news.
• Inform all the group members about the foundations of posting within the group.
• Warn all the members and forestall them from sharing objectionable content.
• Actively and frequently monitor the content that’s being shared on the group.
• It’s advisable that if the group is uncontrollable, then the group settings will be changed to only where admins have the proper to post.
• Inform the police if any members resort to mischief and share objectionable content.
Being an administrator of a WhatsApp or any other messaging group means that you have taken the responsibility to ensure regulation of the information being shared. Thus, it is advisable to allow only those members in a group who are less likely to spread any such information which might be offensive, invoke hatred, or panic amongst other members of the group.
Role of group members of messaging platforms
What you must do as a member of groups in messaging platforms?
• Don’t post fake news, hate speech, or misinformation in groups.
• Don’t further forward or circulate any such news you get from other members of the group.
• Immediately delete any post, if you discover it objectionable or the admin notified you.
• Check the source and veracity of any news/image/video/meme you receive, before posting it on the group.
• Never share any content that’s violent, pornographic, and discriminative against any religion/community.