Never share these topics on WhatsApp in South Africa because they will land you in serious trouble
SOURCE: By MICHAEL VISSER
The top six social media posts to keep to yourself
There was a time when it seemed like there were no consequences on the internet and that what happened online, stayed online. Not anymore. South Africa has joined the growing list of countries who are taking a stand on what their citizens get up to in cyberspace.
Publication used to be the responsibility of trained professionals with rules and regulations on what they produced. Now it’s anyone with a smartphone and their two cents to share, whether it’s nice or nasty, because there is the idea that the internet has no consequences.
Enter the Amendment to the Films and Publications Act (FPAA) (2019) and the Film and Publication Board’s estimated R120 million annual tech budget.
As of March 2022, that nastiness can be reported to, investigated, and prosecuted by the same expert body. Our Film and Publications Board (FPB) has been given the mandate for the first time in its history, to do much more than just classify content. It is now a regulatory body with an enforcement tribunal on the cards, and that hefty budget will finally allow proper investigation of online crimes, allowing the tracking and tracing of their sources. While we do have the right to freedom of speech, we do not have the right to freedom from consequences. Any publication is now subject the same rules and regulations that have governed broadcasting in the past, with that tribunal giving the FBP what their spokesperson called “some very sharp teeth”.
These once-popular online crimes now come with some serious downsides. So stay safe, and think before you share.
1. Sharing the nudes your ex sent
Between the amended FPA, and the ambit of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), you may not publish ANY photographs or personal details to public platforms without the subject’s express permission, nude or not. This includes personal identifiers, such as phone numbers, addresses, medical details and even images that may suggest these details. If the subject of the shared image is under 18 years, you can be charged with the distribution of child pornography. Even if you are under 18 years too!
2. Threats of violence and/or bullying
You may not threaten the life or safety of another human being. The sheer volume of troll comments on YouTube would suggest otherwise, but in our sunny South Africa, it is just as illegal to threaten someone online as it is to threaten them face to face or in a letter. Many got away with it because tracking usernames and handles was a bit beyond the law, but not anymore. Online bullying and violent threats that were committed anonymously will be traced and the perpetrators caught and charged.
3. Trying to get your friends to join in with the violent threats
This can be construed as something called “incitement to public violence” and if you’re convicted, it can come with jail time. If you act or communicate in such a way that can reasonably be expected to illicit a violent reaction, you can be charged under Section 17 of the Riotous Assemblies Act, no 17 of 1956. Even if you were joking. In all seriousness, the law does not care about your intent here. If your actions (online or not) lead to public violence, you will be charged with the above.
4. Complaining about your boss
Don’t do it. You may be tempted. Just don’t. Depending on what you say, you may be guilty of defamation, and with the speed at which commentary can spread on social media, it could get out of hand fast. Not just getting back to your employer, but if your remarks include the business, and they are able to prove loss of earnings a result, that business can name you in a civil suit for damages, which you may have to pay.
5. Hate speech
Racist, sexist, bigoted content is a definite no. These posts have flourished online under the guise of “free speech” but there are now enough precedents, as well the capability to investigate, to ensure that punitive fines or even jail time are levelled against transgressors.
6. Sharing ANY of the above
That’s right. Even if you didn’t write the comment or post the picture, SHARING IT makes you a responsible party. Under the amendment to the FPA, if you choose to publish (this can mean posting to your timeline, your WhatsApp groups etc) any examples of the above, you are complicit in the contravention of the rights of the individual/s indicated in the content.
To be clear, these protections were always enshrined in our Constitution and certain legislation, however the digital landscape has changed so much that it became more and more difficult to enforce their protection. Under the amendment to the FPA, there is now provision for the regulation and prosecution of these offences in a different manner.
There have been ongoing debates over how much control any government can have over the internet and what we put on it since MySpace was popular, but there have always been the conflicting positions of freedom of speech versus our rights to dignity, privacy and security. After a few too many abuses of the “freedom of speech” defence, many of which have since been ruled as instances of hate speech, defamation, and incitement to violence, there are now physical consequences to online crimes.