Action Against WhatsApp Admins Over COVID-19 Jokes? Hoax Alert!

A fake viral message requests WhatsApp group admins to close their groups for 2 days amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Updated
WebQoof
5 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

CLAIM

A viral message on social media requests WhatsApp group administrators to close the groups for two days amid the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown. The message goes on to say that the groups should be closed because police can take action against the admin and group members “vide section 68, 140 and 188 if someone posts a joke about the virus”.

The viral message then goes on to say from midnight ‘tonight’ (7 April), the Disaster Management Act has been implemented across India and that no citizen is allowed to post or share any forward related to coronavirus. Attached with the message is a Live Law article titled “Centre Seeks SC Direction That No Media Should Publish COVID-19 News Without First Ascertaining Facts With Govt”

An archived version can be seen <a href="http://archive.is/JHS5N">here</a>.
An archived version can be seen here.
(Photo: Screenshot/Facebook)

Many people shared the same message on Facebook, urging WhatsApp admins to close their groups. Some people shared just the first part of the message, while some shared the message, but without the link to the LiveLaw article.

Action Against WhatsApp Admins Over COVID-19 Jokes? Hoax Alert!
(Photo: Screenshot/Facebook)
Action Against WhatsApp Admins Over COVID-19 Jokes? Hoax Alert!
(Photo: Screenshot/Facebook)

(Click here for live updates on COVID-19. Also visit Quint Fit for comprehensive coverage on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.)

The message has also gone viral on Twitter.

Action Against WhatsApp Admins Over COVID-19 Jokes? Hoax Alert!
(Photo: Screenshot/Twitter)

ACTION AGAINST ADMINS?

Let us look at the first part of the message, which asks the WhatsApp admins to close their groups for two days. It says that police can take action under Section 68, 140 and 188. With respect to the latter part of the message, which mentions the Disaster Management Act, it may be assumed that the sections being referred here are part of this Act.

However, on checking the Act, we found that while there is a Section 68, it does not mention anything about spreading fake news or making jokes etc about coronavirus. Section 68 simply talks about authentication of orders or decisions.

Action Against WhatsApp Admins Over COVID-19 Jokes? Hoax Alert!
(Photo: Screenshot)

Moreover, there are no Sections 140 and 188 in the aforementioned Act.

Now, if one were to assume that the Disaster Management Act is not the context here, then no such Section 68 or 140 exist with respect to any action that would be taken by police against a WhatsApp admin.

However, Section 188 could refer to the 188 of the Indian Penal Code, under which disobedience of an order promulgated by a public servant is a punishable act, with the punishment depending on the situation.

This could happen in a place where an order has been passed stating that admins have to prevent spreading of fake news. If fake news is spread on a group and admins don’t take action, then the admins can be held responsible.

There have been incidents wherein WhatsApp group members and admins have been arrested for spreading fake news, in Telangana and Mumbai. This has also happened earlier with respect to communal content on WhatsApp groups.

But in the context of this particular viral message, there can be no action against jokes and under the sections mentioned.

Therefore, this message is clearly false and meant to create alarm, and no such order has been passed by the government.

OLD HOAX MESSAGE

The rest of the message being shared is one that has been circulating for some time and has already been debunked by The Quint.

This part of the message talks about Disaster Management Act being implemented which then goes on to say that it disallows people to share anything on coronavirus. But the truth is:

  • The central government stated on 24 March – the day when the 21-day lockdown was announced – that the Disaster Management Act, 2005, was being invoked to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, the question of the Act being implemented across the country from ‘midnight tonight’ does not arise.
  • Secondly, there is no provision in the Disaster Management Act that mentions that apart from government departments, no other citizen can be allowed to talk, update or share any news related to a disaster. While Section 54 of the Act makes it a punishable offence to circulate a false alarm or warning about a disaster or its severity or magnitude, there is no such rule about sharing any information, fact or opinion grounded in fact.
Action Against WhatsApp Admins Over COVID-19 Jokes? Hoax Alert!
(Photo: Screenshot)

WHAT ABOUT THE LIVE LAW ARTICLE?

Finally, the LiveLaw article which is being quoted in the message has no relation to the message itself, since it is specifically about COVID-19 information being telecast by media outlets.

The article dated 31 March states that the central government had sought direction from the apex court that no media outlet should broadcast or publish any COVID-19 information without verifying the facts and that media organisations must ensure that they publish/refer to the government's official updates on developments about the coronavirus.

LiveLaw has also clarified this.

Action Against WhatsApp Admins Over COVID-19 Jokes? Hoax Alert!
(Photo: Screenshot/LiveLaw)

Therefore, it is clear that as long as fake news is not being spread, there is no restriction on citizens to share any news or updates about the virus.

You can read all our fact-checked stories on coronavirus here.

(Not convinced of a post or information you came across online and want it verified? Send us the details on WhatsApp at 9643651818, or e-mail it to us at webqoof@thequint.com and we'll fact-check it for you. You can also read all our fact-checked stories here.)

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