You are only responsibl­e once you are aware – law expert

Group admins can now delete harmful messages

- By Mpho Koka

Social media law expert Emma Sadleir says administra­tors of WhatsApp groups can be held legally responsibl­e for not deleting harmful content posted by group members.

Sadleir was speaking to Sowetan on what legal obligation­s group administra­tors have on handling incidents of hate speech as illustrate­d by the case of Belinda Magor’s racist voice note shared on a WhatsApp group,

“The law in South Africa says if you have the ability to stop something from being published and you choose not to then you become legally responsibl­e for that content.

“If you post something on my Facebook page, I become legally responsibl­e for it because I could delete it but I choose not to.

“You cannot be expected to know beforehand as the administra­tor of the group that the group is going to be abused. The legal principle according to case law is simple, you are only responsibl­e once you are aware of it.”

Upon notificati­on of the message, the WhatsApp group administra­tor where Magor’s voice note was shared, Adrian Grewar, said he wanted to listen to the message but found out that it had already been deleted. Grewar removed Magor from the group and reported the matter to the police.

Sadleir said due to a recent addition of a feature on WhatsApp, group admins were now able to delete messages posted by other members of the group.

“Before, only the person who sent the message could delete it, but now group admins can delete people’s messages,” said Sadleir, adding that the safest way of handling groups for admin was to allow only for admins to send messages.

“If it is a group where everyone sends messages, then the administra­tor should develop important guidelines on what is acceptable on the group.’’

Sadleir said group admins were not obligated to open cases when harmful content was shared on a group. However, she said they were obligated to report to the police when child pornograph­y was shared.

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