August 1, 2019

TO THE LETTER: SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE LAW

South Africans spend about a third of their day online, and two and a half hours of that is dedicated to social media. We’ve become so used to scrolling, posting, commenting and liking that we don’t think twice about our actions — and whether they might be illegal. Here are the three most important things you need to know about staying on the right side of the law on social media. 

1. Yes, you can lose your job over a Facebook post 

If you post anything on social media that brings your employer into disrepute, they can not only fire you, but take you to court, too. Posting anything found to be racist or offensive can lead to your dismissal on the grounds of misconduct. Posting something on social media that isn’t offensive but does cause a breakdown in the relationship between you and your employer (like a selfie at the cricket on a day you’ve told HR you’re in bed with a flu) is also a dismissible offence. 

This also applies to what you post after hours, so be careful what office party pictures you post. 

2. You’re responsible for everything on your social media profile

You don’t have to write it yourself to land in hot water over a post. When you share or like someone else’s post, you’re essentially republishing it, as it then becomes visible to your audience. A few years ago, a British politician and businessmen was accused of being a paedophile on social media. The claims were baseless, but he was found guilty by the court of Twitter. After clearing his name (and winning several libel cases) in a real court, he sued each of the 10 000 people who had retweeted the defamatory post for a nominal sum – which was donated to a home for abused children.  

3. A private profile isn’t as private as you think

When you use and upload content to a social media site, you’re giving its owners permission to “use your content in any way it sees fit”. So if you wouldn’t share something with your local paper, it’s best not to share it online, either. This extends to apps used in conjunction with social media. A few weeks ago, FaceApp went viral for aging users’ faces, giving them a glimpse at what they’ll look like in their golden years. But by using the app, users unwittingly gave the app’s owners permission to use their pictures, name and likeness.

If you need business or professional advice over social media conduct or concerns, contact our office on 011 347 0300 or info@lawmen.co.zato make an appointment.

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