Mumbai police and Maharashtra cyber cell had earlier issued prohibitory orders warning WhatsApp group admins that they will be held responsible, if the group members posts communal or fake news related to COVID19. The Mumbai police has also warned of stern action for spreading rumors and communal messages on any social media platforms.
However, in an article published by LiveLaw, Prasanth Sugathan, Lawyer, Kerala High Court says that, "A WhatsApp group admin has only a limited power to add or remove members from the group.Unless she has abetted or assisted in posting an objectionable message, she cannot be held liable for any post made by a member of the group. Of course, if a group has been formed for an illegal purpose like sharing child abuse videos then the admin can be held liable. "
He says that Section 68 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 states that everyone shall be bound to conform to the reasonable directions of the police officer given in fulfilled of any of his duties under this act. However, he adds, that the provision does not give them the power to put a set of directions for WhatsApp group admins for non compliance of the directions."
After the coronavirus outbreak, the state has seen surge in communal messages and rumors being circulated on social media related to novel coronavirus. In the past, police have arrested many people for spreading hatred and rumors on social media. However, now, the group admin will also be held responsible for the members' activity.
The Mumbai police order stated that amidst coronavirus pandemic it has been observed that there is widespread dissemination of commok, Tiktok, and Instagram. It further stated that such content can cause panic among the masses and could lead to law and order situations in the state.
A day prior to this, the state's cyber wing, Maharashtra Cyber has advised WhatsApp group admin to be careful in the case of communal or fake messages related to novel coronavirus. They have also asked group admins to change the setting to admin mode so that only admins can post messages that will help in the curb of spreading communal hate, rumors and misleading information related to COVID19. The advisory further stated that in the case of multiple admin, the setting should be changed to single admin.