The Admin of a WhatsApp Group cannot be held accountable for what members post unless there is a shared intention: HC of Bombay.


The Bombay High Court held that an admin of a WhatsApp group cannot be held responsible for a member’s post unless there is a shared purpose, and that when an individual creates a group, he cannot be required to assume or have advance knowledge of a member’s criminal actions.

The Bombay High Court’s Nagpur bench recently ruled that unless there was a “general purpose” or “pre-arranged arrangement,” a WhatsApp group administrator cannot be held vicariously liable for objectionable content shared by a group member.

In a magistrate court in Gondia, a division bench of Justice Z A Haq and Justice Amit B Borkar observed this when it quashed a FIR and set aside the proceedings against a Whatsapp administrator.

“Even if the charges in the FIR are acknowledged as true, the material in the form of the charge sheet does not reveal critical ingredients of offences alleged against the claimant under sections 354-A(1)(iv), 509, and 107 of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000,” the HC said.

What was the situation?

In July 2016, a lawsuit was lodged against a WhatsApp group administrator and another member for failing to take action against an individual who used “filthy” and “indecent” language against a woman in the group.

The claimant was accused of failing to delete the accused from the Whatsapp party or to request that he send an apology.

What happened in the courtroom?

The plaintiff argued that there was enough evidence against the administrator to justify the quashing of the FIR.

During the hearing, the court said that the “essence of the issue is whether a WhatsApp community administrator may be held criminally responsible for an unacceptable post made by one of its members for committing crimes.”

Every chat group has one or more group administrators who manage the group’s involvement by removing or adding members. A group administrator has minimal authority to withdraw members of the group or recruit new members. If the group is formed, the administrator’s and members’ functions are identical, with the exception of the ability to add or remove members from the group.

“A WhatsApp group administrator does not have the authority to monitor, moderate, or filter material until it is added to the group. However, if a member of the WhatsApp group posts any content that is legally actionable, that person may be held liable under applicable laws. An administrator of a WhatsApp group cannot be held responsible for objectionable content shared by a group member in the absence of a particular penal clause establishing vicarious liability.

A group administrator cannot be held vicariously responsible for an act of a member of the group who posts objectionable content unless it can be shown that there was a shared purpose or pre-arranged arrangement and that such member of a Whatsapp group and the administrator acted in concert pursuant to such plan. In the case of a WhatsApp service consumer operating solely as a group administrator, a common purpose cannot be established.

The court went on to say that when anyone starts a WhatsApp party, “he cannot be expected to assume or have prior knowledge of the illegal activities of the group members.”