Law expert: Sunette Bridges order could set precedent

2015-04-01 17:50
Sunette Bridges (Facebook)

Sunette Bridges (Facebook)

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Cape Town - Websites allowing public comment have to pay more attention to issues of defamation and hate speech to avoid possible court action, lawyer William Booth said on Wednesday.

The same applied to individuals whose family and friends left questionable comments on their private Facebook pages.

Booth’s warning came after Afrikaans singer Sunette Bridges settled with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) over controversial comments posted to her Facebook pages.

The settlement was made an order in the Equality Court, sitting in the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town, on Tuesday.

Booth said it could set a precedent for the way comments in the public domain were dealt with in future.

He felt the civil order was a “good thing in principle” but should be balanced with the right to free speech, and access to news and information.

It was his belief that companies or individuals who dealt with third party comments - whether it be a complaints website, news site or social page - had a responsibility to manage posts that were defamatory or hateful.

“Practically, it can be very difficult, if not impossible to check out the truth of everything. The answer is that if you are running these sites, you are going to have to put up some kind of warning or disclaimer.”

Individuals and companies needed to look at measures to moderate vindictive comments and protect innocent people, he added.

Hate speech

The SAHRC had accused Bridges of hosting racial commentary on the social network, arguing that it amounted to hate speech in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000.

It felt that her personal page and the “Sunette Bridges News Page” were hostile and intimidating environments in which racism and hatred were allowed to flourish.

Bridges is the daughter of the late Afrikaans singer Bles Bridges.

On Tuesday, the Equality Court confirmed and declared that the controversial comments posted by other users amounted to hate speech and harassment in terms of the act.

The settlement also acknowledged that Bridges had taken steps in the past to address and remove racist comments from her pages.

According to Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr attorneys, who represented the SAHRC, Bridges would have to regularly monitor her Facebook pages and remove content that amounted to hate speech, harassment, or incitement of violence.

She would also have to warn users of the court order, block those who posted offending comments, and put up English and Afrikaans posts distancing herself from hate speech and harassment.

Bridges posted information to this effect on her page on Tuesday, adding that she had never incited violence or encouraged illegal conduct.

She said in Afrikaans that she would continue to exercise her constitutional right to freedom of speech and would work “tirelessly” to expose crimes that “trampled”on the rights of the white minority.

Read more on:    sunette bridges  |  cape town  |  racism  |  media

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