Legal implications to hit ill social media practices

LEPHALALE — Social media has become part of life to the extent that unemployed people use it to seek for jobs, others use it to share their success stories while some companies use it to recruit and screen the behaviour as well as habits of their would-be employees.

Recently, a finance intern at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in Umlazi, Durban, was suspended for posting on Facebook that he felt like raping his seven- and ten-years-old neighbours whom he said were too forward.

The series of posts sparked a huge public outcry and complaints that resulted in the health MEC instructing management of the hospital to remove him, pending the outcome of the investigation.

What happens when social media is used to tarnish the image of the next person?

In September 2016 one of the presenters of the now defunct Lephalale FM opened a case of defamation of character at Lephalale Magistrate’s Court after her pictures were uploaded on Facebook. Taking the pictures and uploading them wasn’t discussed with her, therefore she didn’t consent to have them uploaded on the app. The Presenter then stressed out that the way her pictures were uploaded sought to mock, demean and harass her.

Last week a case of defamation of character against three men was dropped at Lephalale Magistrate’s Court.

It all started in July 2018 when names (not their real names) were used on social media, particularly Facebook, to complain about the conduct of a well-known businessman in Lephalale, whom the posters accused of ill conduct after an assault incident that happened at Marapong Ext 4.

A Defamation of Character can be defined as criminal defamation, which is the unlawful and intentional publication of a matter pertaining another person, which tends to seriously injure the person’s good name or reputation.

This week a man from Lephalale who is in his 30s had pictures of him, his contact details and his partner’s circulated widely on Facebook. The person who posted the pictures accused the man of wrecking his marriage and the manner in which the post has been shared over 2 900 times sparked controversy and division among locals.

Earlier this month Parliament’s Justice Committee officially adopted the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, which focuses on criminalising the theft and interference of data, and comes with new laws surrounding any “malicious” electronic communication.

This implies that any person who contravenes the adopted provisions is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.

That includes a message which incites damage to property or violence, any person who unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes by means of a computer system, a data message to a person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite violence or damage to property.

Also included are messages which unlawfully contain intimate images, meaning any person who sends a message containing an intimate image of a person without their consent is guilty of an offence.

The other important detail includes instances where the person is identifiable through descriptions in the message or from other information displayed in the data message.

Lephalale Cluster Police Spokesperson Warrant Officer Frans Mokoena says that every person has a constitutional right and this brings attention to people who do as they please with others’ pictures to humiliate them.

He even highlighted the dangers involved in photo shopping as that might degrade a person’s dignity and get someone in trouble with the law.

“Taking a picture of someone without asking for permission is wrong and that includes using the pictures without their consent. Even when a picture is taken there is still a need to ask for permission if one wants to use it for their own reasons, which shouldn’t humiliate the person. The same applies to taking private conversations to the public without their permission, it is unacceptable,” he said.

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