Get permission for running WhatsApp group or face action: Kishtwar district administration

In a bid to curb the spread of rumours via social media platforms, the Kishtwar district administration near here has asked the netizens having WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages to get their antecedents verified by police and seek their permission within ten days to continue running them.

In a stern measure, the netizens have also been asked to give an undertaking to the authorities that they would be personally responsible for the contents uploaded on their social media platforms and be liable to face legal consequences for possible breach of law by such contents.

The order, issued by District Development Commissioner (DDC) Angrez Singh Rana on Friday, has also warned netizens that they may be liable to prosecution under various laws, including anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, besides other penal provisions like the IT Act, the Ranbir Penal Code and the Cyber Crime laws.

The officials said the order was issued by the DDC in response to a letter written by Kishtwar’s Senior Superintendent of Police Abrar Choudhary to him on June 22.

The letter by the SSP said a large number of WhatsApp groups including newsgroup have come up in the district and have often been found transmitting and circulating “rumours, false information and unconfirmed or half-baked information in the form of videos, audios and text material resulting in every apprehension of law and order problem.”

In order to prevent any untoward incident or law and order situation in the district, there is an immediate requirement to prevent the circulation of false information and rumours through WhatsApp news or other groups and other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter etc,” the officials said, quoting the DDC’s order.

While the freedom of expression through social media is important, the same comes with a responsibility and reasonable restrictions. Therefore, social media group administrators with the ownership of the group should be ready to bear the responsibility, the officials said quoting the order.

The officials said through the order the district magistrate has asked each WhatsApp group administrator to register his or her group with NIC’s district office in-charge within 10 days and furnish an undertaking to own responsibility for the content uploaded on the social media platforms.

The order asked the group administrators to deny any baseless information with the potential to cause religious disharmony on the group and forthwith remove the member for uploading such content, take a screenshot and report the same to the nearest police station, the officials said.

They said the order warned action against the group administrator in the event of inaction on his or her part and would be liable for action under law in case any untoward incident or law and order situation arises due to the unconfirmed information.

The order also warned “action under relevant provisions of law including the IT Act, the Ranbir Penal Code, Cyber Crime law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and any other law in force at the time of the violation,” the officials said.

On the procedure for seeking permission to run any group or page, the officials said the interested person need to apply to the district magistrate through concerned district NIC officer. The district magistrate would seek a report of character and antecedent through the SSP concerned and a clearance report by state CID organisation, the officials said, adding that an individual interested in forming a WhatsApp news or other group would have to submit a declaration as well, they said.

In the declaration form, the applicant will have to declare that he or she would provide details of all the members of the group or page including those living abroad and will be personally accountable for any information uploaded on the group or page.