On Thursday evening, reports spread that group administrators on Whats App can be booked for spreading misleading information, rumours and factually incorrect information. Quite obviously, it generated interest in India where the Facebook-owned messaging app boasts about 200 million users.
But, is there a need for Whats App users to really panic? A close look at the details of the case suggests that the answer is no, there is no real need to worry. Here's why:
Local administrative issue: The order that makes it possible to file an FIR against Whats App group administrators has come from the District Magistrate of Varanasi and the Senior Superintendent of Police in the city.
"There are several groups on social media which are named on news groups and also groups with other names which are propagating news and information which is not authentic. These are being forwarded without cross checking," a joint order issued by District Magistrate of Varanasi, Yogeshwar Ram Mishra and Senior Superintendent of Police Nitin Tiwari said.
They have taken the decision to stop people from spreading religious disharmony in the city through rumors. It has primarily to do with local law and order problem.
Not central govt/court decision: The decision has not come from the central government or a court. The decision pertains to the jurisdiction of District Magistrate of Varanasi and the local police. It cannot have a nationwide impact. So, there's no real need for users across the country to worry.
Type of message: The police will take action on messages or rumours that spread religious disharmony or create law and order problem. Hence, friends, families, work colleagues who use Whats App for communication should not be too worried and continue to use the app without any apprehension.
Police action: Regardless of the platform, the police anywhere in the country can investigate cases related to religious disharmony in any way it chooses, including inquiring about the messages spread on WhatsApp. In fact, the government has in the past blocked WhatsApp in tense situations to stop the spread of rumours. The point here is that people who are spreading religious harmony should anyway be worried, as the police can take action under cyber crime law.