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Group admins not accountable for content: Delhi High Court

The Delhi High Court has dismissed a civil suit for defamation against an admin of a social media group, stating that an admin cannot be made liable for defamatory statements made by any other members of the group, reports LiveLaw.

Interestingly, the court likened holding the admin of a group accountable for defamation to holding a printing press responsible for defamation for materials published by print media. The court said that “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.” Read the full judgement here (pdf).

Note that this case was regarding materials shared on Telegram and Google Groups, but the ruling should apply to admins on WhatsApp Groups and the like as well. This is important as admins have been held responsible for content before. For example, in October last year, a WhatsApp group admin was arrested in Latur over objectionable content. Similarly, a mandate by the district magistrate of Kupwara district of Jammu & Kashmir in April held group admins responsible for all posts on their groups. In August, two youths were arrested by police in Chhattisgarh following a complaint against the admin of a WhatsApp group.

It needs to be pointed out that group admins generally don’t really have control over the flow of content in a group, and erratic platform specific rules, like WhatsApp randomly assigning a new admin if the only admin quits, makes it difficult to hold administrators accountable for the content on groups. As such, administrators could perhaps be covered under Section 79 of the IT Act which gives them some immunity from the law as intermediaries.

Note that when Section 66A was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in March, the apex court also said an intermediary needs a court order or a government order for getting content taken down. At the same time, the court also upheld Section 69 which allows the government to block websites.

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