KOZHIKODE: “Are you the admin of the WhatsApp group which spread communally sensitive messages and exhorted others to stage protests,? asks a voice which introduces himself as a police officer. On the other end, a young man, possibly in his early 20s, hesitantly admits to it. He is then directed to report to the police station. That sums up the content of a sound clip recently doing the rounds on social media.
The possibility of police action against many youngsters, who circulated such messages on the eve of the violence-ridden hartal, has left them clearly worried. The shroud of secrecy that one expected from WhatsApp has suddenly been torn apart. Innocent or malicious, but those ‘forwards’ on the social media platform in the wake of the Kathua rape incident have now come back to haunt the WhatsApp users involved. The group admins who sat silently when such communally sensitive messages flew around in their groups are also in trouble.
Strict action on the cards?
According to IG (Kannur range) Balram Kumar Upadhyaya, the contents of the messages are being closely examined and if found to be aimed at promoting enmity between groups, those involved would attract non-bailable charges under Section 153 (A) of the IPC besides other sections under the IT Act.
“We are seriously pursuing such cases and will take legal action against those involved. Pro-active action on our part will serve as a deterrent to those who attempt to misuse social media platforms to spread communal hatred and incite violence in future,” said M R Ajith Kumar, IG (Thrissur range) under whose jurisdiction falls Malappuram district, which saw maximum violence, reportedly incited through WhatsApp messages.
Meanwhile, a top officer of the intelligence wing indicated that tough, non-bailable provisions may be invoked only against those who created the messages. The chances of group admins and users being booked under tough charges are remote at present, the officer said.
‘Understand the implications’
Dhanya Menon, leading cybercrime investigator, does not subscribe to the view that many of the sensitive messages forwarded on the eve of the hartal were unintentional.
“Using technology without knowing its implications can definitely land a person in trouble. There is so much of unassimilated, raw data flowing around. But the question is whether the user is capable of assimilating that data and pass on only legally-permitted information,” she said.
“The IT Act clearly lays down punishment for cyber-terrorism. But it depends on the law enforcing agencies concerned whether to invoke those provisions or not,” she said.