Pros and cons of social media

2015-05-25 15:40
Facebook is intent on rolling out wireless internet services. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Facebook is intent on rolling out wireless internet services. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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The power of social media was once again highlighted last week when a video of a KFC employee at an Umhlanga outlet apparently sharpening a knife on a pavement outside the store went viral. The deep fried chicken giant could have done without the negative publicity so soon after video footage of workers at a Braamfontein outlet washing chicken pieces on the floor with a fire hose plunged KFC into a public relations nightmare.

But this story took an interesting twist with the woman who uploaded the video to a well-know Durban Facebook group denying that she had shot the footage. “The comments and any impression created by the video are not mine and must not be attributed to me in any way whatsoever. l have not made any statements about KFC to anyone including the media and in particular the Independent on Saturday and distance myself from any comments appearing in any media reports.

“I am taking legal advice in regards to the above,” she wrote on the same site.

The person who posted the original video has now claimed that it was shot by someone else. If that is the case, then some questions now emerge. When and where was the footage shot? Given the levels of criticism aimed at KFC this is important because it adds vital context for their investigation. Without this context anyone consuming the material and responding with comments would not have been able to remain objective in their reactions.

In the digital age, anyone with a cellphone can become a citizen journalist and these two incidents highlight the empowering or damaging — KFC will struggle to find positives out of this — nature of social media. While it is enlightening to realise that social media can be good for mass communication, it is important to remember that context is vital to understand what is being viewed.

And while the general rule never to make assumptions also applies to social media, the consequences of shaming someone online could place you at odds with the law.

An Australian mother who shamed a man on social media because she thought he was taking pictures of her children had to apologise after receiving death threats. The woman, took a photo of the man in a shopping centre in Mel­bourne, Australia, and posted it on Facebook — the picture caption referred to the man as a “creep”.

It later emerged the man was only taking a selfie photo in front of a Darth Vader sign to send to his children.

The woman’s photo was shared more than 20 000 times and the man contacted police after being wrongly labelled a paedophile.

The man said he was considering legal action after the post was seen by friends and family around Australia.

Technology attorney Russel Luck in a recent interview with Fin24 said the law takes a dim view of malicious shaming.

“Where the ‘shaming’ amounts to cyber bullying [comments made about a person or to a person which amount to harassment or hate speech], the ‘shamer’ could face civil charges in delict and/ or criminal charges,” Luck explained.

Under South Africa’s Protection from Harassment Act (Act No 17 of 2011), the court merely has to see face value of harassment evidence to grant the victim a protection order, Fin24 reported.

“If the court is satisfied that there is prima facie evidence that the respondent is engaging or has engaged in harassment” the court may issue an interim protection order, the act says, in part.

More serious cyber bullying could be covered under charges of crimen injuria.

And despite what many think, there are ways to track down someone who has posted a malicious comment even if they are anonymous.

Luck said that you could get a court order to force a service provider to make details of accounts available in order to identify the guilty party.

During the recent xenophobic storm that engulfed parts of the country, pictures that showed violent images were posted online, seemingly illustrating to South Africans and the rest of the world what was taking place.

Unfortunately, many people forwarded these images without doing any research and this perpetuated a story of mass killing and and exarcebated the true nature of the xenophobic hatred.

While there were tragic incidents and clashes the unrest was nowhere near the scale portrayed on social media and served only to instil panic.

The general rules when posting anything online are to carefully research what you post or repost and to assume that nothing on the Internet is private.

Failure to carefully consider these rules could place you at odds with the law

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