Social media is more popular than ever now, however, it can create opportunities for abuse and can bring out the worst in people, often without thought as to the consequences. When something is posted on social media sites, it is considered “published” and is therefore subject to the laws applicable to traditional media, such as newspapers. Accordingly, claims for defamation and hate speech as well as dismissal or disciplinary action for social media misconduct become very real possibilities.
Defamation is the act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person which has the effect of injuring that person’s good name or reputation.
The courts recently granted a Facebook user an interdict preventing a friend from posting about his personal life on the platform after she defamed him thereon. In another case a woman was awarded damages after claiming that her former husband and his new wife were bad-mouthing her on Facebook.
Hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is prohibited because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristic.
Although freedom of expression is a constitutional right, it is not an absolute right. If what you say, or publish via social media platforms, has a negative impact on the rights of another, then your right to freedom of expression may be limited.
Dismissal from Employment
Disciplinary action, including dismissal for social media conduct have increased drastically over the past few years often following on the heels of comments made or posted on social media sites by employees.
Some of the grounds for dismissals have included derogatory Facebook status updates, an employee criticizing management, criticizing the employer, employees using social media to convey internal matters of the business to former employees, etc.
Avoid Problems Altogether
To avoid legal or disciplinary action arising from your conduct on these social platforms, you should consider the following:
The defence against defamation is that the publication was true and in the public interest. Make sure you can back your comments with substantiating evidence and factual information. Accordingly, making a comment about a friend on a matter that is not in public interest could be defamatory even if it is true.
Regularly check your social media profiles to ensure that your name is not being linked to defamatory statements of others.
Do not post anything which could be regarded as incitement to cause harm based on race, religion, ethnic background, gender, sexual preference etc.
Adhere to the social media strategy and policies of your workplace. Find out what these are, and if these are not in place, keep the following guidelines in mind:
Keep posts ethical and respectful.
Do not engage in online activities which could harm the reputation of the company.
Do not disclose any confidential or business information of the company.
Do not discuss colleagues, managers or information pertaining to the company.