In the past two years we’ve seen criminal charges laid against a real estate agent for a racist post, a businessman locked up abroad over a video of the Guptas and a holidaymaker shunned by his family and colleagues after posting an offensive video on Facebook. Incidents like these highlight the fact that posting on social media is never really private and can have serious long-term repercussions if picked up by the general public.
'Social networks market themselves as a space where you can share intimate and personal experiences with friends and family. Because you need to create an account and log in with a password, there’s this seeming appearance of a veil of privacy around your social media activity,' says social media specialist Megan Singh.
But, she explains, your privacy depends on the security settings on your account. She adds: 'If you haven’t taken the time to look into those settings, the content you share on your social accounts is pretty much available to everyone on that particular social network, even though you have to log in to access it. Taking the time to update your privacy settings is really important. It could not only save you from potentially embarrassing situations, but financially risky and life-threatening ones too.'
It’s a crime
According to Megan, there’s no specific law in South Africa governing the use of social media, but our constitutional rights (to dignity, equality, privacy and freedom of expression) play an important role. 'Before the advent of social media, derogatory, insulting and socially unacceptable views were not as easily disseminated to the public and the hurt caused was not as widespread. But South Africans can no longer hide behind freedom of speech or expression as a defence for saying abusive, hurtful or hateful things. My right to expression ends where it infringes on your right to dignity,' she explains.
And this doesn’t only apply to content you’ve created; be careful of sharing posts that could be deemed offensive. 'If you share something defamatory, you will be held just as liable as the original creator or poster of that content because you will be seen as further distributing that content,' says Megan, adding that should you come across an offensive post you are within your rights to report that content to the social media platform. 'Don’t try to get involved in the matter yourself by commenting – you could be seen as participating – rather escalate it to the proper authorities.'
Before you post
Megan suggests the following considerations whenever you’re posting or sharing on social media:
Think before you tweet.
- Stay away from social media if you:
- Have had a few drinks;
- Have to ask a friend if you should post or not;
- Are angry or emotional; or
- It’s later than 4am.
- Always ask: 'What’s the potential harm?'
- Direct Messages (DMs) and WhatsApp messages should be treated as public forums because their content could be considered to be in the public interest.
- You have the right to freedom of speech, but you also have a duty to respect the rights of others.
Save on social
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