Social Networks: Managing the Monster | Dentons


South Africa is in the throes of unprecedented political and civil unrest. Businesses face challenges on multiple fronts, from supply chain disruption to job and labor disputes to the repercussions of employee misconduct and misinformation on social media.

In response to these challenges, our lawyers will address some of these key issues and answer your burning questions in a series of client briefings.

Social media has the power to dominate the thoughts, words and actions of people.

The protests that started in favor of former President Zuma have turned into looting, violence, destruction of property and chaos. We’ve all watched it on our phones, TV, or some other device.

Using social media to start, grow and fuel anarchy – because that’s what it is – has been a very frightening example of how the right to protest and freedom of speech, when are not hampered, can go wrong. Within minutes, messages may have traveled to a much larger group than the original sender could have imagined. This is the multiplier effect.

News reports noted that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have apparently been used to coordinate and spark protests, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng – videos, pictures, texts and voice messages were used to inform and mobilize people to participate. in looting, while others have chosen to use it to spread disinformation, to exploit politically sensitive events or to further escalate the situation in real time – while increasing anxiety and panic for the vast majority South Africans.

Some posts have also obviously helped alert people to areas to avoid, and dangerous situations and we all have the right to post messages, make observations, draw conclusions and share them all online, or on any platform, because we have the right to freedom of expression. This right is not without exception, however, it is in fact not unimpeded.

So if the South African government took steps to restrict the right to use social media, wouldn’t that infringe on a fundamental freedom?

The Cybercrime Law, which was passed in 2020, applies to anyone who “unlawfully makes available, disseminates or distributes, by means of a computer system, a data message to a specific person, group of people or the general public with the intention of inciting violence, or calling on persons to participate in the destruction of any property belonging to personsAnd he makes these acts an offense.

It is essential to note that this law is also an offense for anyone who “unlawfully and intentionally:

  1. attempts;
  2. conspires with any other person; or
  3. aids, encourages, induces, induces, induces, instructs, commands or procures another person to commit an offense… “

The actor may be liable to the same penalty as a person convicted of actually committing this offense would be liable.

Under this law, telecommunications operators and financial institutions must assist in the investigation of cybercrime, for example by providing a court with certain information that may involve the delivery or disclosure of data (defined as “electronic representations of data”. ‘information in any form’) or even computer hardware, at the request of persons authorized by law. They must also report cyber crimes committed using, in the case of telecom operators, their networks, within 72 hours of becoming aware of them. Telecom operators are required to respond in real time and provide real time communication related information about a customer as it becomes available, and as has always been the case under the a law known as “FADN”, operators may be required to intercept communications.

Violators can face fines and up to 15 years in prison under the Cybercrime Act.

So that’s one side of things. The other aspect is how the government enforces other rights – the right to privacy, to enjoy property and the environment, to trade and to live without fear.

The so-called Justice Group comprising the Ministers of Justice, Crime Prevention and Security claims, through Police Minister Cele, to monitor all social media platforms and follow those who share information. false information and call for civil disobedience.

The right to privacy, recently underscored by the entry into force of the 2013 Privacy Act, appears to have disappeared as Minister Cele says he monitors “all” social media platforms. But at some point a line has to be drawn between what rights we have and how we exercise them.

Government is the only entity that can do this, but the way government balances our rights with the need to protect citizens and property seems to put us in a position where social media (and the platforms that disseminate it) are the ones. only winners.

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