South Africa – WhatsApp has granted more power and control to group admins over the content shared in their groups by their members. As such, they could legally be charged by South African Authorities for the nature of the material distributed by its members, as they are now answerable for everything that appears in the group.
Over the years, WhatsApp groups have become notorious for distributing information. Most of the facts were either exacerbated, half-truths or completely untrue. As a result, falsified information, rather fake news, became prominent in 2020 during the State of Disaster in South Africa.
During this period, the South African government criminalized the sharing of false information. It charged individuals who sent it without accountability to the admins who started the group.
However, the update has given the admins more responsibility in regulating the information shared amongst its members. They are now liable to delete obscene messages that include slurs, vulgar language, threats and hate speech, and content meant for adult viewing. Failure to do so will lead to legal action being taken against them.
Carla De Beer, a social media expert, mentioned that according to South African Publication Laws, any social media content that at least one other person views are published in the eyes of South African law. Therefore, the creator of that content becomes legally responsible for its distribution and reception.
“We’ve seen it in India, [where] WhatsApp admins have been jailed because of stuff that was said on a group, and they haven’t done anything about it. And this was around 2019 already, so it’s becoming a global trend.”
This does not mean group admins are only affected by this new update. The responsibility is shared by group members, as they can be charged for the same thing by just participating in the group.
The admin’s responsibility is to remove obscene content. If he does not in the extended time frame of 24 hours and the message gains traction by members liking, commenting and sharing it or even if they reply to a different message in the same group. Then they too will be held accountable for not condemning the image or statement.
When they encounter a vulgar message, members must dissociate themselves from it by either alerting the admin or leaving the group entirely.
As a precautionary measure, group admins are advised by De Beer to safeguard themselves. To “make sure that nothing negative goes on your group. You need to put up WhatsApp guidelines, [and] you need to inform people that these are the rules and regulations of the group. If you don’t stick with them, you’re out. And keep an eye on all those messages”.