Facebook under fire

2010-03-26 09:10

Cape Town - It won't be easy to slap a muzzle on Facebook and other social networks, but they can be sued for things that are published on their websites.

However, the fact that people "spill their guts" or post hate speech is part of the uncensored discourse which is characteristic of the internet.

This is what experts had to say about the storm that broke over the past week regarding serious and controversial statements posted on Facebook.

Fans of the ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, made racist postings on a Facebook page. It was removed from the website earlier this week.

Bert Olivier from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, who lectures in film and media studies, among others, said one never has complete control over that which is published on social networks like Facebook or MySpace.

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"Facebook is one of the most democratic inventions ever, and while one tries to promote freedom of speech, there will always be those who try to oppose it."

According to Heinz Oldewage, online community editor of Nuus24, the only solution is to report the specific page that you have a problem with to Facebook's control section, and hope it is removed.

"Practically it's not really possible to regulate Facebook. Should it ever happen that the content is regulated, Facebook will be held responsible for everything which is published on the website."

According to Olivier, it's possible to appoint online editors who can intercept unacceptable postings, but that decision rests with the owners of Facebook.

Roux de Villiers, a lawyer at Werksmans Incorporated Jan S de Villiers, said legislation is, indeed, applicable to Facebook, for instance as far as defamation is concerned.

"You can submit a complaint against the person who is making such allegations if you know what their identity is.

"The other option is that you bring the problem to the attention of the suppliers of the service, and in so doing, they will eventually be held liable if the problematic content is not removed."

De Villiers said this is usually a long process, but it could put some pressure on the service provider to regulate the website more rigorously.

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