Offensive tweets could mean jail time – lawyer

A lawyer has warned South Africans to be careful about what they tweet, because offensive posts could result in charges being filed – and even a possible jail term of between three and six months.

Emma Sadleir, a social media lawyer at Webber Wentzel, is quoted in a report in The Times as saying Twitter and Facebook users who put up racist or offensive posts could be charged with crimen injuria or face a complaint under the Equality Act.

‘It is not unusual for a person who is found guilty of crimen injuria to be imprisoned in SA,’ Sadleir said. ‘I know of two separate cases in which policemen were called [by] the ‘k’ word and in both instances, the person was sentenced to jail for a period of three to six months.’

Like any other form of publication, online users are held liable for all comments they make on social networks, even when retweeting and sharing posts. The report notes Sadleir said anonymous users were not exempted from criminal charges, or complaints laid with the Equality Court against unfair discrimination, harassment and hate speech. This is because it is possible to get a court order compelling a website to hand over any information like e-mail or an IP address identifying the person who set up the account.

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