Laws against online hate speech inadequate, Parliament hears

2016-08-31 14:30
Facebook is expanding its mobile device footprint. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Facebook is expanding its mobile device footprint. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Cape Town - More needs to be done in terms of the law to get social media companies to assist police in identifying perpetrators of online hate speech, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has told Parliament.

SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn made a public submission to the Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Communications on Wednesday, which is hosting public hearings on the Film and Publications Amendment Bill.

Kahn said perpetrators of online hate speech were taking refuge in hidden identities on Facebook and Twitter.

Using an example from 2014, she said it had been difficult to lay charges against an individual, Phumza Zondi, who had threatened to "come after Jews" in a post on the board's Facebook page.

"You Jews think you are special just because the ANC keep bowing down to your demands," the post read.

"Well wait and see... This time we are prepared and ready for you. We will ambush you in your homes and rape you and your cats and drive you to the sea."

Kahn said the name was fake, and while Facebook was willing to assist in identifying the user's true identity, they first needed a court order from police.

The board followed up with the SAPS Cyber Unit, which sent an order to Facebook directly.

Two years on, they are still no closer to identifying the individual who made the post, and the Deputy Public Prosecutor declined to prosecute.

Protection of identities

READ: 4 ways to avoid social media disasters

"While the country's laws adequately address hate speech, the problem is the medium, in this case online, and the lack of provisions when perpetrators take refuge in hidden identities online," Kahn told the committee.

"Facebook for instance will take the post down, but that doesn't help me. I can't take action if I don't know who the person is.

"The issue is when there is protection of identities."

Kahn told the committee that the officer they had approached at the local police station had asked them, "What is Facebook?", indicating the need for training.

She said the bill should contain provisions that mandate international social media companies to assist the police when a user breaks the law of the country on the platform.

The amendment bill currently suggests a fine of R150 000 for people found guilty of online discrimination.

'We just want to establish a procedure'

READ: Clean up your Facebook profile or you won't get hired

Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile van Damme asked Kahn to clarify the board's stance on criminal cases versus general cases.

"When people break the law in the country, foreign social media companies should not protect them," Kahn said. "They are essentially giving them refuge.

"In France, they have successfully forced organisations like Facebook, through legal means, to identify perpetrators.

"It's complicated due to company law and global freedoms, but other countries have successfully managed to get this information from service providers, and with our current standing on racism laws, South Africa shouldn't be any different."

Kahn said the US's Anti-Defamation League was willing to educate police and government officials in matters of online discrimination.

"We just want to establish a procedure and a correct route for all South Africans in future situations."

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