A day after WhatsApp set restrictions on sending frequently forwarded messages, the State cyber department on Wednesday issued an advisory outlining the dos and don’ts for members and administrators of such groups.
Cyber police officials said a rise in the instances of fake news, rumours, and hate speech on the COVID-19 pandemic had been noticed in the last few days, with 20 FIRs being registered all over the State in 24 hours.
“Of the 20 cases registered on Tuesday, 14 are communal in nature and six are rumours. From the lockdown till date, 132 cases have been registered in Maharashtra, of which 49 pertain to hate speech,” Superintendent of Police (Maharashtra cyber) Balsing Rajput said. So far, 35 people have been arrested and 28 have been identified and will be arrested soon.
The advisory instructs members of WhatsApp groups to refrain from posting unverified content and report an instance of misinformation, fake news, or hate speech either to the State cyber crime officials or nearest police station.
It also advises administrators of the groups to ensure that every member is reliable and responsible, inform all members about the rules of posting, and warn against sharing objectionable content. “Actively and regularly monitor the content that is being shared on the group. It is advisable that if the group is uncontrollable, then the group settings can be changed to only where the administrators have the right to post. Inform the police if any members resort to mischief and share objectionable content.”
The advisory says those found in violation of the rules will be liable for action under the Indian Penal Code, Information Technology Act, and, in the current atmosphere, Disaster Management Act. Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act deals with someone who is providing or forwarding misleading information related to the severity or magnitude of the epidemic, which may lead to panic, and can be punished with imprisonment which may extend to one year.
“Under Sections 144 and 144 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, orders by a district magistrate can be passed against WhatsApp groups, which can direct the group settings to be changed so that only the administrators can send messages. Even after this setting, if any messages sent on the group were found fake, insulting any religion, spreading hatred, bigotry, or which may create communal tensions, the administrators would be held solely liable,” the advisory says.