All you online joke forwarders, trolls, and purveyors of dank memes – it’s now officially a criminal offense to spread rumours on social media. No kidding!
Authorities have, in the past, faced issues on many occasions when fake news and rumours spread over platforms like WhatsApp, causing communal and regional tensions to flare up. Now, the administrator of any group in which possibly damaging rumours are being spread, whether on Whatsapp, Facebook, or other social media, is liable for prosecution. At least in Varanasi anyway (for now).
The District Magistrate Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and Senior Superintendent of Police Nitin Tiwari have issued a joint order stating that any factually incorrect, rumour or misleading information on a social media group could result in an FIR against the administrator.
“There are several groups on social media which are named on newsgroups and also groups with other names which are propagating news and information which is not authentic,” the order states. “These are being forwarded without cross checking.”
Supposedly, “Directives are being issued to social media groups, Whatsapp and Facebook group administrators and members.” Yes, that’s right. Mull it over.
There are over 200 million Whatsapp users in India, and the order calls for all group administrators to be responsible and self-police their chats. “The administrator must include only those members who are personally known to him or her,” the order says, adding that it’s the admin’s duty to remove offensive chats before they can spread, and report it to the nearest police station.
“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,” it continues.
That’s the plan for Varanasi anyway. We’ll have to wait and see how the district’s police plans to tackle people that violate this order and, more importantly, if other courts use this as precedent in future cases.