21 Feb 2017

The South African Human Rights Commission: National Hearing on Racism and Social Media

by Verlie Oosthuizen, Partner, Durban,
Practice Area(s): Social Media / Cyber Crimes |

Last week the South African Human Rights Commission held a national hearing on Racism and Social Media which spanned over two days.  The Department of Justice, the National Prosecuting Authority, Facebook, academics, civil society organisations such as the Freedom of Expression Institute, FW de Klerk Foundation and Afriforum as well as journalists presented their thoughts on the increasing incidence of online racism which has plagued the country.  A former Constitutional Court judge, Justice Albie Sachs, and two commissioners of the SAHRC presided over the occasion and will present a report of the findings in due course.

The reason for the hearing is clear... increasingly and most unfortunately, the SAHRC is receiving complaints of racism and discrimination and citing the location of the incident as “social media”.  During the 2015/2016 financial year the SAHRC received 505 race-related complaints which is a staggering amount over 20 years after our first democratic election.  As Justice Sachs pointed out “... Social media is capable of destroying the values we want to achieve as a society...”

Hate speech has not yet been criminalised and the Bill dealing with this issue is controversial.  Hopefully the SAHRC report will provide some guidance on what society can do to deal with the issue.  As Justice Sachs said though “... there is no silver bullet...” – this issue is unfortunately going to be faced by South Africans in all spheres of society for years to come.