WhatsApp administrators are likely to be the first “port of call” when pursuing legal action for a post in a group.
This is according to Verlie Oosthuizen, partner and head of social media law at the law firm Shepstone & Wylie.
In South Africa, many social media scandals originated with posts in closed WhatsApp groups, which include Margaret van Wyk’s nude selfie and Adam Catzavelos’ racist rant.
Oosthuizen said all of the people involved in the group are part of the chain of publication, which makes them legally liable.
However, the administrator of the WhatsApp group is likely to be the first “port of call” when pursuing legal action.
This, Oosthuizen explained, is because they are responsible for the group on the platform and should be monitoring the content.
The person who actually posts the content or shares the content unlawfully would usually be the first respondent, she said.
WhatsApp admin arrested in India last year
The risk to WhatsApp admins is not new. An administrator of a WhatsApp group in India was arrested last year after a defamatory post was made by one of his group members.
In this case the administrator was arrested for adding a member to the group who posted a morphed photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the group.
According to the Hindustan Times, one of the group members took offence to the post, and laid a complaint with the police.
The police explained that they made the WhatsApp admin party to the case because he added the member who posted the content to the group, even after he left the group earlier.