Social Media and the Law

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February 14, 2017 by Student 24/7 Blog

Imagine the scenario:
You post/ tweet/ message something about someone you don’t like (doesn’t matter if you use their real name or not). You get all your frustration out; even add a some witty sarcasm and a joke here and there… Then you press ENTER…
That’s allowed right? I mean; what about your Right to Freedom of Expression?
Then the next thing you know; you get a very unpleasant letter from a lawyer stating that you are being charged, or are requested to go to court.

The possible ‘bad-side’ outcomes?

  • Suspension/ dismissal from University or work
  • A notch on your criminal record
  • Paying a hefty fine (like in the thousands)
  • Bit of jail time

In other words – a VERY different life than before…

Sounds like a bad movie plot right? Well, this movies name? YOUR LIFE.
It is very easy to use social media; and also very easy for you to be in trouble because of your social media as well. There are laws that can be used for or against you because of social media. These laws, that are present in real-life, can still apply to cyberspace (especially social media), though they may still not work too well (since our laws began LONG before the internet was around), they are being updated and slowly incorporate your cyber-life as much as your real-life.


Objection your Honour!

Dr Lizzie Harrison, recently came to present The Retweets and Likes of Life: Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media, where she explains some of the laws we have, and how they are being incorporated into social media cases. So have a read, and be aware!

Law One: Chain of Publication
While originally for newspapers, this is now being enforced for online even more. The chain means, that everything you retweet, share, like, or type in yourself, places you in the chain of publication. So you become as responsible for disseminating the content further than it would have gotten without your assistance. In the content, you don’t even have to have the actual person’s name, BUT if one person can guess who you are talking about, that is enough to be found guilty. Even if you retweeted or shared a post, then you can also be found as being part of the guilty party, because you are seen as part of the chain…

Law Two: Defamation
For this to be used, the information must be (1) absolutely true and (2) has to be in the public interest in order to count as defamation.

Law Three: Privacy
Take note! Privacy is NOT dead! You CAN cultivate privacy, but remember… once something exists on a device, it becomes dangerous content if your device is stolen or hacked.

Law Four: Hate Speech
Don’t say anything hurtful… Even if YOU mean it as a joke. Tone and context don’t exist online and can come back to haunt you.

Law Five: Crimen Inuria
Basically, when you infringe on someone’s Right to Dignity, Reputation or Privacy. This is when a joke goes too far, and such offenses are being tried in court more and more. So leave the Photoshop for more important things…

Law Six: Confidentiality
Think someone is following you? More than likely yes! Why? Because your posts tell everyone where you are… So keep your location services OFF – unless you are using them for Google Maps or maybe an Uber. The less people know where you are, the safer you may be.

Law Seven: Intellectual Property
Walk past a poster and see your Instagram picture on it? If you make it public, ANYONE is allowed to use it, and you can get NOTHING for it… So check your privacy and post settings. Also, don’t use images that you’re not sure are copyrighted or trademarked!

Law Eight: Protection from Harassment Act
If you are being harassed online (and in real life) you can go to a Magistrate’s Court, report it and receive a protection order (but the case needs to be clear). Then the next time it happens, that person will be arrested.

Law Nine: Code of Conducts and Contracts
All of us (whether on social media or not) are representatives of something. From the organisations you affiliate with, academic institutions (like the NWU Vaal) and your jobs. Thanks to social media, you are now a representative 24 hours a day (yes even when you are sleeping, someone could be posting something about you). Once you sign a Code of Conduct or Contract you are punishable for anything you do that would go against them. *Yes, being a student of the NWU Vaal, you have to follow the Code of Conduct of the University… so better read it before you post something…

Law Ten: Insider Trading
When writing about organisations… be careful. Even if you think you are writing a positive message, it can still lead to disastrous consequences. And of course, be careful of negative comments about organisations, institutions, or future employers; because they can hold it against you.

Law Eleven: Sexual Offenses
Photos of a sexual nature can be used against you on social media. If you Instagram is a public account, the images can be used by Instagram and the general public without your permission. And Snapchat? guess what… Your images and videos, and not completely deleted. Instead, they are stored on the devices of your contacts, and it IS possible to retrieve old Snapchats… You just have to know how…


We find the defendant… Not Guilty…

So… after those eye opening laws, one thing becomes clear… Social media is not a platform for you to do or say as you want and not get into trouble for it. But there are ways that you can make sure that you are a little more safe with your social media, and life… Dr Harrison gives a few tips to make sure you are a little more social media safe:

  • Don’t think you can be anonymous on social media. There is ALWAYS some way for someone to find out who you are… eventually.
  • Terms and Conditions can change daily, so don’t only rely on privacy settings.
  • Screenshots exist – and people use them.
  • You need to inform your social media page ASAP when you have been hacked; as well as all the people on your contact/friend/following lists.
  • Regret nothing – so don’t let evidence exist if you think you will.
  • Don’t give social media access to just anyone.
  • Check, double check, triple check before you post.
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
  • Don’t forget that you represent your University – whether on Campus or off, day or night.
  • If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then don’t say it online.
  • If you wouldn’t want your mother seeing it, then DEFINITELY don’t put it online!

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