Social media and the South African law – 5 things you need to know

Social media is everywhere. According to We Are Social & Hootsuite’s ongoing Global Digital series, there are currently 3.028 billion social media users around the world. Social media has made its way into almost every aspect of our lives and has become one of the most prominent forms of communication. But one Facebook post, one Tweet or one Pin can land you in a lot of hot water.

Take KwaZulu-Natal realtor, Penny Sparrow, for example. In a Facebook rant, Sparrow called black beachgoers “monkeys” and was later found guilty of hate speech in the Equality Court. AS part of her sentence, Sparrow was ordered to pay R150 000 to the Adelaide and Oliver Tambo Foundation. This case was the first of many, many social media outbursts which caused a lot of uproars worldwide.


Here are 5 things you need to know about social media and the South African law.   

Always think before you post anything on social media. If you would not print it on a billboard (with your name attached) for the whole world to see, would you post it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? It is easy to post a thought or opinion on social media, even if it’s innocent and no harm is intended. But, if you any something wrong, you could face legal consequences.

Did you know that you can be sued for tweeting a statement that could cause harm to others? Even if you did not post the original content, but shared (RT) a malicious tweet, which is seen as an endorsement of said content, legal action can be taken against you. Everyone found to have contributed to the false statement or defamatory content, could be held liable for defamation.

Stealing someone’s images is theft. When you share any content as if it was your own (without permission from, and credit to, the author/creator), you are stealing and legal action could be taken against you. When you use someone else’s creation without their permission, you are violating a copyright law and you could be liable for copyright infringement.

You can get fired for things you say on your personal social media profiles. If you share malicious content about your employer on social media, your employer can dismiss you as a breakdown in the working relationship (or a breach of trust) could have taken place. Saying things like: “I hate my boss and I wish I could burn the whole company down” on social media, disciplinary action can be taken against you and you could risk losing your job. On the other hand, if you share any ill-reputed content on social media, that could be linked to your employer, you could have the same fate as Justine Sacco. Even if you do not state where you work, a simply Google search might lead to your place of employment.

Misleading the public could lead to serious trouble. This is of particular importance for influencers and bloggers. If a brand has “paid” you to advertise a certain product or service, you must put a disclosure in your communication that shows that you have received something of value in exchange for the content. Whether it is by add #ad, #spon, #sponsored or #ambassador to your posts, you should make it absolutely clear that you have a relationship with the brand. Brand & social media Influencers – are you at risk? by GoLegal offers an insight into the standards of advertising as laid out by the Consumer Protection Act and the Advertising Standards Authority’s Code of Advertising Practice.

Need legal assistance? Cavanagh & Richards Attorneys is a dynamic premier labour and commercial law firm in Gauteng. The firm, assisted by a team of attorneys and advocates, offers legal services in respect of all requirements generated by commercial and corporate companies and the individual South African citizen with specialization in contract law, corporate law, civil litigation and labour law matters and handles both start-up and established companies.

Contact us today.