Jail risk with online racist comments

2012-04-02 12:55
Cape Town - South Africans who are found making racist comments on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook can be jailed.

This is according to law firm Webber Wentzel, IOL reported.

The law firm's social media lawyer Emma Sadleir said that South Africans who post racist and offensive comments (also known as Cyber-smearing) via social networks could be charged with crimen injuria or hate speech.

The issue of racism on social networks came to the forefront this week when British student Liam Stacey was sentenced to 56 days in prison following racist comments on Twitter.

Stacey caused revulsion by reacting to Fabrice Muamba's mid-game collapse by writing: "LOL, f*** Muamba. He's dead!!! #haha." He responded to criticism of that message with vile racist tweets.

Hate speech

Sadleir said that comments posted on Facebook or Twitter are treated in exactly the same way as comments made in any other public forum, be it on TV or radio, in a newspaper or in public discourse.

"The first and most noticeable is that people do things and say things in the online world that they would never do or say in the real world. People hide behind what they think is the anonymity of the internet to say things they would never say in the real world."

She added that a racist tweeter in SA could be charged with crimen injuria or hate speech as defined in the Constitution.

Social media experts have said that users of networks like Facebook and Twitter have to be "sensible".

"I think that social media users need to wise up a little; they need to become a little bit more sensible as digital citizens," social media consultant for Afrosocialmedia Samantha Fleming told News24.

But users continue to expose themselves to personal risk by posting content to their social networks without considering the wider impact it might have.

Recently, a senior official at the Civil Aviation Authority was suspended over negative comments he wrote about superiors on Facebook.

In SA, though, there have not been cases where anyone has been charged for social media violations.
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