Can you spend time in jail for a text message?

Communicating with friends and family through a message has never been easier. Thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp, messages can be sent in an instant.

But, did you know that sending certain messages can see you facing jail time? That’s right, a text message can see you facing criminal charges and a prison term.

This follows Parliament’s Justice Committee recently officially adopted the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill. While there has been a delay in the adoption of the bill, there have been several amendments to the bill since it was first proposed in 2017.

The Bill aims at bringing South Africa in line with global cyber laws, as well as dealing with the ever-growing threat of cybercrime.

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Can sending a message land you in jail?

What does the Bill focus on?

The Bill looks at criminalising the theft and interference of data, as well as laws surrounding any electronic communication which is ‘malicious’.

What classifies as ‘malicious’ electronic communication?

A message which incites both damage to property or violence

This is where a person unlawfully sends a message either through a computer system or data message to a person, a group of people or the general public with the intention of:

  • Causing damage to property belonging to someone else, or
  • Committing violence against a person or a group of people.

A message which threatens people with damage to property or violence

This is an extension on the above, with the Bill clarifying that a ‘group of people’ means a group of individuals that identify with a specific group of the community.

These characteristics include the following:

  • Race,
  • Gender,
  • Sex and sexual orientation,
  • Ethnic or social orientation,
  • Age,
  • Religion and belief,
  • Disability
  • Language, nationality and culture.

A message which contains an intimate image

This involves a person sending an intimate image of a person, without the said person’s permission.

An intimate image classifies as both real and simulated messages which shows the person as nude or displays his or her genital organs or anal region.

This included instances where they can be identified through descriptions in the message or from other information in the respective message.

It is also an offence if the person is female and her genitals or breasts are displayed in such a way that it can put her sexual integrity or dignity in an offensive light.

With the possibility of facing a fine and jail time, people must be careful what they type in their text. No one wants to spend time in jail this festive season.

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