WhatsApp Group Admin Won’t be Liable for Objectionable Post by Other Member: Bombay High Court

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The administrator of the group cannot be held criminally responsible if any objectionable post is made by another member in a WhatsApp group. The Napur Bench of the Bombay High Court gave this verdict and dismissed the sexual harassment case against a 33-year-old man.

The order was passed last month and a copy of it was made available on April 22. The departmental bench led by Justices ZA Haq and AB Borkar said that WhatsApp group administrators have limited powers like adding and removing members. The Administrator cannot censor or control objectionable material posted by any other member.

The court passed this order in the context of an application filed by Kishore Taron (33). Kishore Taron wanted that within the year 2016 in Gondia district, sections 354-A(1)(iv) (making remarks of sexual nature), 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman) and 107 (incitement) of the Indian Penal Code and The case against him under IT Act Section 67 (publishing or transmitting objectionable material in electronic form) should be dismissed.
According to the indictment, Taron did not take any action against a female member of the group after another member posted hate speech.

It was alleged that the applicant, being the group administrator, neither removed the member who used abusive language from the group nor asked him to apologize. The court said that the essence of the whole matter boils down to whether the WhatsApp group administrator should be held criminally responsible for the objectionable posts made by other members or not.

Keeping in mind the functioning of this messaging service app, the court said, “A group administrator is a person who creates a group and adds or removes members from it. Each chat group can have more than one administrator.”

“The group manager has only limited power to remove or add members. Once a group is created, the functionality of the admin and members is the same, except for adding or removing members.”

“Group admins of WhatsApp do not have the power to regulate or censor content before it is posted. Yes, if a member posts any objectionable content in the group then that member can be held responsible for the same.”

“In the absence of a specific penal provision creating vicarious liability, WhatsApp group administrators cannot be held responsible for objectionable content posted by other members, unless there is collusion or premeditated planning.” The court said.

The FIR and charge sheet filed against Taron was rejected by the High Court.

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