Be careful! WhatsApp group admins could be legally responsible for members' posts

13 June 2017 - 14:58 By Nivashni Nair
An illustration picture shows Whatsapp App logos on a mobile phone.
An illustration picture shows Whatsapp App logos on a mobile phone.
Image: Nacho Doce

With the rise in online racism and hate speech‚ it's only a matter of time before WhatsApp group admins could be held liable for members' offensive posts.

This is according to Norton Rose Fulbright attorneys Megan Claassens and Sinal Govender.

Referring to a recent case in India where the administrator of a WhatsApp group faced arrest after a defamatory Photoshopped image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was shared‚ the pair said WhatsApp admins in South Africa should brace themselves.

"We previously wrote about the South African high court extending liability for defamation to people who have simply been tagged in posts on Facebook. It seems that administrators of social media groups should brace themselves to shoulder similar extended liability for what is posted on a group‚" the lawyer pair said.

A WhatsApp admin is automatically the person who creates the group. But additional admins can be added‚ without necessarily agreeing to be one. Group admins then have the ability to control who is invited to‚ or removed from‚ the group chat.

"South Africa is yet to test the liability of a group admin with regard to what is shared on their group‚" the lawyers said.

However‚ the Indian case should remind admins that what is posted on private groups could have serious repercussions‚ including being found guilty of defamation or hate speech.

The pair advise company and private group admins to: - Ask yourself what the consequences of the content shared on your WhatsApp group could be if it was shared publicly? - Ensure the credibility of the participants of the group. Are all of these people personally known to you as the group admin? - Educate the members of the group regularly on what content is allowed. For example‚ no cat videos in the work WhatsApp group. - Remove members who repeatedly post offensive content.