Messaging application WhatsApp has now reached a stage where it runs your everyday social media life. Or in many cases, ruins as well. On Thursday, the administrator of a WhatsApp group was arrested from Marathwada, Maharashtra. His crime — being the administrator of a group where a video of a man slaughtering a cow and abusing the Prime Minister was shared — allowing circulation of what was dubbed ‘objectionable’ content.
Days ago, Ambika (name changed), an employee of an e-commerce portal filed a sexual harassment complaint against her colleague for a sexually demeaning post sent on a WhatsApp group. In such cases, who has control of what is posted on the group? Certainly not the administrator, who cannot even delete such a post from the group. “In this case, what will authorities do if Ambika herself is the admin of the group? Will they arrest her?” asks Karthik Lakshmanan, an ardent social media user. “It’s a no-brainer. They should not arrest people for something trivial,” he adds.
Instead, says college student Ali Husain Dahodwala, who is part of about 20 groups, the person who sends such content should be held responsible. The groups he is a part of, he says, have an average of three administrators.
However, Dhanya Menon, cyber security expert, has a different take. “Like how a principal is in charge of whatever happens in a school, the administrator is responsible for content in the group,” she contends. “The administrator is the one who creates the group and adds or removes members, so he or she should know who is being added and what content the members may share.” She adds that if one is unsure of the group members or the content going to be shared, that person has the option to simply exit the group. Menon also says that till specific legislation on the subject is brought in, holding the admin responsible makes sense. “And it’s not like the ones who posted the content will go scot-free. They will also be arrested,” she points out.
The drawbacks are manifold. First, WhatsApp administrators have no control of the content posted on the group — he or she cannot moderate or delete content and can only remove the person who posted it. Second, what one person considers objectionable, another may not. So first decide what is universally objectionable, says Lakshmanan.
Third, there are several technical loopholes. A group can have multiple administrators, and if the person who created the group quits, the system automatically assigns another administrator at random. Can this person be held responsible? “No, he cannot. And first thing I’m going to do is exit all groups,” concludes Lakshmanan on a lighter note.