Feb 27, 2022

Is a Whatsapp group administrator legally responsible for objectionable content on the group?

Trigger Warning: This post contains information about online abuse which some readers may find disturbing.


The Bombay High Court has said that it cannot punish a Whatsapp group administrator if a group member posts objectionable content, unless there was common intention or a prearranged plan between the member and the administrator. 


Groups on social media like Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. often become places where abusive messages or content is shared.


In this context, let us look at the law on online abuse in India.


Which laws govern online abuse and cybercrime in India?

Both the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Information Technology Act, 2000 govern online abuse and cybercrime in India.


Circulating obscene material online

It is a crime to electronically publish or transmit any material which is lustful/lewd, appealing to sexual interest, or material which corrupts those who see/read/hear it. Continuing the earlier example, if someone were to post pictures of your private parts on their social media, this could also be an offence of circulating obscene material online. 


The punishment for circulating obscene material is jail time for up to three years and a fine of up to Rupees five lakh.


Stealing someone’s identity

Identity theft means when someone fraudulently or dishonestly uses your electronic signature, password, or any other unique identification feature. For example, if someone steals your Instagram password, it is identity theft. 


The punishment for identity theft is jail time for up to three years and a fine of up to Rupees one lakh.


Violating privacy

The law punishes anyone who violates someone’s privacy to intentionally record, publish, or transmit images of that person’s private areas without their consent. For example, if someone takes photographs of your private parts without your permission, and publishes the photos on their social media, they have violated your privacy. 


The punishment for this is jail time for up to three years and/or a fine of up to Rupees two lakh.


Reporting online abuse 

You can approach the police or your State Cyber cells for filing a complaint against cybercrime. You can also file an online complaint through the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal.

To know more about online abuse and how to report it, read our explainer.