Enjoy a good rant on Social media? New law could see you locked up

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The power to find someone or speak to anyone in an instant is the “power” behind why social media exists. But as the years have passed, we have seen, like everything else, sinister people use these platforms as a way to generate mass unrest, fear or anger. 

Looking at these people who form part of the social media universe. We have seen the sheer power of influence which a person can yield from the safety and anonymity of a social media account. From cyberbullying to inciting violence, social media is a platform which needs to be governed like any other social environment and for the uninformed, it is and the bolts are seriously tightening. 

Yes, while the Constitution does allow freedom of speech and expression, there are limits. Not only does the Constitution not allow for hate speech and discrimination, but social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram won’t stand for it either. This means that as the years have progressed, seeing these platforms becoming more refined, we have seen how these problem profiles are being dealt with.

However, there are posts which do still slip through the system. Posts which clearly see users sharing their distorted views with millions of people. Creating chaos while injecting anger and their strange outlooks into our lives.

This generally breeds once nonexistent problems, not only on a person to person basis. But, also serving as a destructive tool in our modern-day society’s goals and unity.

In South Africa, if you come across a post which insights violence, hate or racism. You must first report the post to the platform and then to SAHRC (the South African Human Rights Commission). 

Currently, SAHRC is investigating a complaint regarding a tweet which disgustingly glorified farm murders while calling on people to commit violence.

SAHRC claims it is tasked with the Constitutional mandate to protect, promote and monitor the attainment of human rights, as set out in Chapter Two of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights; which views every potential infringement of human rights with equal vigour. 

While SAHRC says the Commission views the incitement or call for violence directed against persons on the basis of their race or any other, prohibited as listed in, the Constitution and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (PEPUDA), in an extremely serious light. Action needs to be taken and examples made of all people who use the safety of sitting behind a screen as a tool to insight, support or encourage crime.

Law For All, a local law agency, highlights that not only can hateful, harmful or offensive posts lead to a backlash from followers, your account can also be suspended. It adds there’s also a real chance you can face legal consequences as well.

Let us not forget what happened to Penny Sparrow, whose racist post in 2016 saw her land in a ton of trouble, resulting in a shattered life.

In July 2020, the National Council of Provinces passed the Cybercrimes and Cyber Security Bill, which now waits for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascent. If this bill is signed into law, it will become an actual criminal act to share any harmful or bigoted messages and posts online.

With the South African Government looking at signing the bill into law, as well as having a National Action Plan (NAP) to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, it is pivotal to not only be careful of what you post, but to report those who break the law. 

The time for just saying what you want to anybody, without a backlash, is soon to be over.

While the Cybercrimes bill covers an array of things you should not post, we look at two of the topics which can land you in hot water.

Racist remarks or offensive and racially-charged posts

Legal For All explains that individuals can face prison sentences (of up to 3 years, and up to 5 years for repeat offenders) or fines for anyone who commits a verbal or physical attack, that is found to be racist or hateful.

Threats of violence and encouragement to destroy property belonging to a certain group

The Cybercrimes Bill also covers any social media posts or digital messages that call for people to damage the personal property belonging to a specific “group of persons”. Basically, this means you cannot target, threaten to harm anyone or their property based on their race, sex or gender.

Yet, posts such as these still make their way onto social media constantly and people do not report perpetrators, why? In a public setting, if someone insulted or hurt you, would you leave it? Of course, you would not. 

Author: Quinton Boucher

Edited: Calvin Swemmer


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