Human Rights Commission takes on social media

Social media has the power to connect millions of people. News and information as well as personal views are easily and conveniently shared through the social media platforms across the world. However not everything said on these platforms is expressed positively.

In recent months, a number of complaints received by the Human Rights Commission emanating from Facebook and Twitter has escalated. In 2014 alone, freedom of speech related cases soared from 3% to 22%. Kayum Ahmed - CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission gave reasons to the rising number of these complaints as:

  • Most South Africans have access to mobile technology that allows them access to social media platforms.
  • People are aware of their rights, both on freedom of expression and recognising the limitations of these rights.
  • As apartheid is becoming a distant memory,social media becomes a platform were people can articulate the feelings hoarded for many years.
  • Young people are using social media a lot more and these platforms are used to perpetuate hate speech.

Ahmed also articulated that many people are led to believe that whatever they post on social media is in their private space and will not have negative implications but that it is not the case. He added that employers can also take actions against employees who put their company’s names into disrepute. This is commonly practiced in the United Kingdom, where there’s a case law which suggest that employees can be held accountable for personal statements made on social media.

We need to find a balance between freedom of expression and racist postings. It is best to adopt a more cautious approach to posting on Facebook and Twitter

Section 16 of the South African Constitution protects freedom of expression and only limits free speech in cases of propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence and advocacy of hatred.

The constitution needs to be used as the bench mark on the basis in which we engage in these kinds of debates. On the other hand, we need to ensure that people are given space and platform to articulate their views. A nanny state approach is certainly not what we advocate for as the human rights commission


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