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WhatsApp: Why you’d think twice becoming admin

You may want to reconsider becoming a WhatsApp administrator because it now means more than having the power to add or remove individuals.

It also involves taking full responsibility of whatever information is posted in that group, with or without your approval.

Yes, it means taking responsibility for another person’s actions and facing the full force of the law if whatever is posted on that group qualifies as hate speech.

When NCIC chairman Francis Kaparo warned that the commission would be coming for WhatsApp groups administrators for spreading hate speech, there was national uproar over what appeared as an attempt at making the administrators pay for the sins of others.

POLICE CUSTODY

Two WhatsApp administrators have since been arrested.

One of them is Longton Jamil, the administrator of “Kajiado Unity of Purpose” WhatsApp group who was accused of spreading alarming propaganda on social media and distributing pictures of dead people.

In his defence, Mr Jamil says he has on several occasions warned members of the group to refrain from posting inflammatory messages and hate speech on the platform.

Japheth Mulewa from Malindi is still in police custody as detectives investigate sharing of hate messages that allegedly threaten national security through a group he administers.

HATE SPEECH

Although the law does not touch directly on WhatsApp, it is very clear on the spread of hate speech.

According to section 13 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act (2008), an individual who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displays any written material; or “publishes or distributes written material” is liable for hate speech and could be fined a sum not exceeding Sh1 million or could be jailed for a term not exceeding three years or both.

You are in control.

“By virtue of being a WhatsApp group admin, it means you are a publisher,” says a media law expert. “It means that you are in control of the things that people post, in the same way media organisations are responsible for what is published on their platforms.”

FAKE NEWS

In an era of fake news and falsehoods, WhatsApp groups and other private messaging platforms remain fertile grounds for the spread of false narratives, particularly during elections.

In fact, a recent research by Portland Communications and Geopoll found that the instant private messaging apps such as WhatsApp were among the most popular platforms for sharing and discussing fake news.

India, which has one of the largest number of WhatsApp users – about 200 million users – is cracking down on social media group administrators, including WhatsApp admins since April.

The order by the police and a district magistrate directed that social media group administrators should not only be ready to bear the burden of responsibility for messages posted in the group, but should also add members only personally known to them.

READ: WhatsApp group admin detained for sharing hate posts

The directive further said that should there be any false message posted on the groups, the administrators must immediately deny the message and remove that member from the group.

ACTION TAKEN

“In the event of inaction from the group admin, he or she will be considered guilty and action will be taken against the group admin,” said the directive.

In London, a man was arrested and jailed for three months for posting pictures and a video of one of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire that occurred in London this June.

The 43-year-old man, Omega Mwaikambo, in a Westminister Magistrates’ Court, pleaded guilty to two counts of sending via public communications network an offending, obscene and indecent matter.

It gets rather tricky if a WhatsApp group admin is arrested.

Ms Lenjo says that if an admin is arrested, they first need to show evidence that they exercised caution either by removing that person from the group or issuing a warning to the group members against posting falsehoods and hate messages. 

SAFER

“In the case where the admin directly shares the false information, then they are directly culpable,” adds Ms Lenjo.

While many have criticised the crackdown on WhatsApp admins of rogue groups, some think it will go a long way in making the internet safer.

It could boost self-responsibility particularly in the age of the internet where bullies hide behind their gadgets to spread hate messages.

“Other countries are already holding people liable for their actions on the internet.

If people see others jailed, then it may reduces these cases,” says Ms Lenjo. 

Just as media organisations are responsible for what is carried on their platforms, so are admins.

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