WhatsApp group admins beware

The following article appeared in The Times on Wednesday, 14 June 2017. It lays bare the potential liability for WhatApp admins when things go wrong on a group.

The article quotes Megan Claassens of Norton Rose Fulbright. Megan works with CN&CO deputy chairman Lee Astfalck, which is where the connection lies. Also, as social media practitioners ourselves, we always welcome interesting articles on the topic.

Take care of what you post on WhatsApp


WITH the rise in online racism and hate speech‚ it’s only a matter of time before WhatsApp group admins could be held liable for members’ offensive posts.

Referring to a recent case in India in which the administrator faced arrest after a defamatory photoshopped image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was shared‚ lawyers Megan Claassens and Sinal Govender said WhatsApp administrators in South Africa should brace themselves.

“We previously wrote about the High Court extending liability for defamation to people who have simply been tagged in posts on Facebook‚” the lawyers said.

“It seems administrators of social media groups should brace themselves to shoulder similar extended liability for what is posted on a group.”

A WhatsApp admin is automatically the person who creates the group. But additional admins can be added‚ without necessarily agreeing to be one. Group admins have the ability to control who is invited to or removed from the group chat.

“South Africa is yet to test the liability of a group admin with regard to what is shared on their group‚” they said.

But the Indian case should remind the administrator that what is posted on private groups could have serious repercussions‚ including being found guilty of defamation or hate speech.

The pair advise admins to:

  • Ask yourself what the results of the content shared could be if it was shared publicly;Ensure the credibility of the participants of the group;
  • Educate group members regularly on what content is expected from them; and
  • Remove a member who repeatedly posts offensive content.

— TimesLIVE

Download the article (PDF)