Don’t blindly forward WhatsApp messages. You could be sued

The Chamarajpet crowd that mistook a 26-year-old from Rajasthan for a kidnapper..

Never before in Bengaluru has the Internet and social media taken such a vicious and violent turn as it did last week.

A fake WhatsApp message that went viral has led to the death of a man in Chamarajpet.  But Bengaluru is not alone. In the recent past, many have been lynched in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Hyderabad over rumours and fake videos. 

In tech-savvy Bengaluru, a 26-year-old man was beaten to death in Chamarajpet by a mob that mistook him for a kidnapper. “The big problem is that for a large part of India, WhatsApp is the first exposure to the Internet. What they see there becomes news; people don’t do a critical analysis of what comes their way,” says Swaraj Barooah, senior programme manager, Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru. 

What are the legal implications of forwarding fake WhatsApp news? “It’s a grey area in terms of current regulation,” he says.

However, he advises caution: don’t circulate messages you can’t vouch for.

M T Nanaiah, senior advocate, says, “If a message is intended to harm a person’s reputation, it might come under the purview of the Indian Penal Code Section 499A, which defines defamation and Section 500, which defines the punishment.”

Defamation can attract a punishment of up to two years in jail and a fine. Victims of fake forwards can also sue for damage, he says.

In Varanasi, district officials are holding  WhatsApp admins responsible for fake news, and issued guidelines.

“I think the courts have been doing a flip-flop on this. I am not sure but the legal validity is weak to hold admins responsible for what happens in the group,” notes Barooah. 

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Don’t blindly forward WhatsApp messages. You could be sued

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