Tweet with care or go to jail, says minister

Careless social media usage can land you in prison. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Careless social media usage can land you in prison. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery is calling on South Africans to be more circumspect with regard to their communications on social media, warning that not doing so could land them in jail.

Last Tuesday, the National Assembly passed the Cybercrimes Bill, which has implications for those who use social media and other electronic platforms for “malicious communications”.

Jeffery told City Press last week that even retweeting a tweet that incites violence could be a criminal offence, even if the user did not deem a retweet to be an “endorsement” of its content.

With numerous protests taking place monthly across the country, the deputy minister warned that although it was legal on social media to organise protests or marches, organisers would have to choose their words carefully.

“When it comes to what you say in cyberspace, be responsible – and, particularly, don’t threaten anyone with physical harm, violence or damage to property.

“On the issue of marches, do not say things that can be implied, such as: ‘We going to burn the MyCiti buses because we are not happy with the wage offer’, or ‘We are going to burn the Jammie Shuttle [a bus shuttle service available free of charge to University of Cape Town students and staff] because the vice-chancellor is not hearing our demands’.”

Jeffery said social media users could organise an event but could not urge followers to damage property or physically harm anyone.

He cited the example of a recent post on Facebook by an intern at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal who threatened to rape his neighbour’s daughters to “teach them a lesson”.

Jeffery said a post like that would be a criminal act in the new bill.

The bill still needs approval from the National Council of Provinces. Thereafter, it will be handed to the president to officially sign it into law.

Another major component of the bill addresses the distribution of “intimate images” without consent.

“What is in the body of the bill is criminalising the distribution of an intimate image,” explained Jeffery.

“Often there is confusion. Couples split up and the boyfriend distributes nude pictures of his ex-girlfriend. It is revenge, not porn.

“If he had distributed images of them having sex, that would be revenge porn. There is a legal distinction. In court he would be charged with distributing a data message of an intimate image.

“What the bill provides for is that you can go to court and get an order,” Jeffery said.

“You have to get consent to distribute an image of an intimate nature. The consent is not taking the picture, it is making it available. You can consent to the picture but not to its distribution.”

The bill also addresses other criminal activity related to the internet, such as fraud and extortion.

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