‘Default’ WhatsApp group administrator lands up in jail for sharing ‘objectionable’ forward


  • Junaid Khan was incarcerated for being the admin of a group that was sharing a seditious message via WhatsApp.
  • His family claims that though he was a part of the group, he was not the ‘admin’ when the message was being forwarded.
  • According to the Indian IT Act, if you are the admin of a group you can be held accountable for sharing objectionable content.
  • The irony, however, is that the admin cannot regulate what is posted on the group and neither he/she delete something posted by someone else.
The familiar adage of being at the wrong place at the wrong time seems to have transcended the physical space and made way its way to the tech space.

On 14 February, Junaid Khan, a bachelors student from Talen, a town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, was booked under the IT Act and IPC Section 124 A (sedition) for sharing ‘objectionable’ material on the messaging platform.

The 21-year-old was incarcerated for being the admin of a group that was sharing a seditious message via WhatsApp.

However, his family claims that though he was a part of the group, he was not the ‘admin’ when the message was being forwarded. They told the Times of India (TOI) that the group admin was someone called Irfan who left the group and someone else became the admin who also left leaving Junaid as the ‘default’ admin.

Unfortunately for Junaid, at the time the police case was filed by a few locals at the Talen police station against Irfan (who was also arrested) and the group admin, Junaid was the admin and thus he was jailed. He was also denied bail to take his exams because of the nature of the message that was forwarded.

The police, however, have countered the family’s claim saying that they had not said that he was the ‘default’ admin when Junaid was arrested and they only brought this up after the matter went to court.

Yuvraj Singh Chouhan, the then Pachore police station in-charge told TOI that at the time of arrest they did not have any evidence that would corroborate whether or not Junaid was the admin at the time the message was being shared. He also said that if the family had evidence that he, in fact, was not the admin then they should produce it in court.

This statement was echoed by the Rajgarh superintendent of police Simala Prasad who also told TOI that though they are trying to ascertain whether indeed there were other admins in the said group, the family at the time of arrest had not claimed that he was the ‘default’ admin. She also said they family claimed that there were more than one administrators at the time the message was shared.

Just to clarify this whole admin, default admin issue - here’s how it works on WhatsApp. A group is usually created by one person first who is the original admin. He/she can add, remove other members to the group, change the group name and group display picture etc. The original admin also can make other people in the group admins as well. If and when the original admin leaves the group, the mantle passes on to the others made admin by him/her. However, there have been instances when many people exit the group or the conversation leaving only one person behind who becomes admin by default. And according to the Indian IT Act, if you are the admin of a group you can be held accountable for sharing objectionable content. The irony, however, is that the admin cannot regulate what is posted on the group and neither he/she delete something posted by someone else.

WhatsApp is already finding itself in a tight spot with the Indian government who believe that the Facebook-owned company should be held accountable for the surge in the distribution of fake news that has lead to violence across India. To curb this, the company has already introduced a bunch of changes to the user interface to limit the reach of messages. However, for cases such as this, perhaps it is time for it to also find a way to plug this loophole.
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