Administrator of WhatsApp group not liable for content: Delhi HC
A Whatsapp group admin has only a limited power to add or remove members from a group. Unless she has abetted or assisted in posting an objectionable message, she can, by no stretch of imagination 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. There is no law by which an admin of any messaging service can be held liable for a post made by a member in the group. Any executive order, much less an advisory, which attempts at penalising an act without any statutory backing will be illegal. None of the statutory provisions stated in the advisory saddles the admin of a Whatsapp group with any liability for a post made by a member of the group. Section 68 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 only states that all persons shall be bound to conform to the reasonab1e directions of a Police officer given in fulfilment of any of his duties under this Act. This provision does not give the Police any power to come up with a set of directions for Whatsapp group admins along with penal consequences for non compliance. It is also to be noted that as per Section 140 of this Act the maximum punishment for contravention of S.68 of the Act is fine which may extend to five hundred rupees. Such a section cannot be used as a blanket provision to impose liability for a Whatsapp group admin for an act which is done by someone else.The admin of a Whatsapp group cannot be vicariously liable for any act by a member of the group. There is no master-servant or a principal-agent relationship between the admin of a Whatsapp group and its member.
The Apex Court has held in Sham Sunder and Ors. vs. State of Haryana (1989) 4 SCC 630 that 'there is no vicarious liability in criminal law unless the statute takes that also within its fold'. This dictum was followed in R. Kalyani Vs. Janak C. Mehta (2009)1 SCC 516.In this connection, it is also pertinent to refer to the 2016 decision of the Delhi High Court in Ashish Bhalla vs Suresh Chawdhary, which held that the group admin was not liable for a defamatory text made by a member.'When an online platform is created, the creator, thereof, cannot expect any of the members thereof to indulge in defamation and defamatory statements made by any member of the group cannot make the administrator liable therefore. It is not as if without the administrator's approval of each of the statements, the statements cannot be posted by any of the members of the group on the said platform,' the court observed.
Dismissing a civil suit for defamation against the group admin, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said: 'I am unable to understand as to how the administrator of a group can be held liable for defamation even if any, by the statements made by a member of the group.'No intermediary liability There also seems to be an attempt at creating confusion on the aspect of secondary liability by holding that a Whatsapp Group admin can be considered to be an Intermediary. Section 2 (w) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 states that ' with respect to any particular electronic records, means any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes. A Whatsapp group admin does not have any power to...",
IN THE HIGH COURT OF DELHI AT NEW DELHI
+ CS(OS) No.188/2016, IA No.4901/2016 (u/O 39 R-1&2 CPC), IA
No.8988/2016 (of D-2 u/O 7 R-11 CPC) IA No.9553/2016 (of
defendants no.1 and 3 under Order VII Rule 11 CPC), IA
No.9554/2016 (of defendant no.6 under order VII Rule 11 CPC) and
IA No.11830/2016 (under Order I Rule 10 CPC).
ASHISH BHALLA ..... Plaintiff
Through: Mr. Krishnendu Datta, Mr. Shaunak
Kashyap, Mr. Rahul Mukherjee and
Ms. Sriyanka Gangopadhyay, Advs.
SURESH CHAWDHARY & ORS. ..... Defendants
Through: Mr. Rajesh Kalia and Mr. Sayed
Aqueel Ali, Advs. for D-1&3.
Mr. Rajat Navet, Adv. for D-2.
Mr. Shailesh K. Kapoor with Ms.
Suruchi Thapar and Mr. Ajay Kumar,
Advs. for D-4.
Mr. Abhishek Bhardwaj, Adv. for
HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE RAJIV SAHAI ENDLAW
O R D E R
17 .Similarly, I am unable to understand as to how the Administrator of a Group can be held liable for defamation even if any, by the statements made by a member of the Group. To make an Administrator of an online platform liable for defamation would be like making the manufacturer of the newsprint on which defamatory statements are published liable for defamation. When an online platform is created, the creator thereof cannot expect any of the members thereof to indulge in defamation and defamatory statements made by any member of the group cannot make the Administrator liable therefor. It is not as if without the Administrator‟s approval of each of the statements, the statements cannot be posted by any of the members of the Group on the said platform.