Offensive posts—such as rumours or fake news—circulated through WhatsApp or Facebook groups can land the group admin in jail, according to a joint order issued by the district magistrate of Varanasi and the city’s police chief.
Concerns are often raised fake news, morphed photos and offensive videos circulated on social media that can potentially trigger tension and even communal strife in a region. To address this, Varanasi DM Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and SP Nitin Tiwari issued on Thursday a joint order that said an FIR (first investigation report) can be filed against a group administrator if factually incorrect, rumour or misleading information is circulated on his/her social media group.
“There are several groups on social media which are named on news groups and also groups with other names which are propagating news and information which is not authentic. These are being forwarded without cross-checking,” the joint order stated.
The order stated social media group administrators should be ready to bear the responsibility and ownership of the groups. The administrator must include only those members who are personally known to him or her. If any statement is made by a group member which is fake, can cause religious disharmony, or rumour, the group admin must deny it on the group and remove the member from the group.
“In the event of inaction from the group admin, he or she will be considered guilty and action will be taken against the group admin,” the order stated. Such a post must also be reported to the nearest police station so that action can be taken against the member under the law.
A case under cyber crime law, Information Technology Act and Indian Penal Code will be filed in case of violation of these guidelines. The order also made it clear that orders of Supreme Court and various high courts will be considered while initiating action.
“While freedom of expression on social media is important, it also comes with a responsibility,” the order said.
However, it remains to be seen how Varanasi police, which is facing severe staff crunch, implements such an order on social media are not limited to the boundaries of the district.