06 Feb 2017

Social Media Update: Ethics

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

Sadly there is no “social media ethics” class that users can take which will teach them how to use the medium responsibly and point out the pitfalls and dangers of posting certain forms of content.  When journalists are trained they are subjected to many hours of instruction on journalistic ethics and the limits of press freedom.  The types of photographs that are acceptable and unacceptable are carefully examined.  There is no such equivalent for the average user and so their “better judgment” is the yardstick used.

Obviously taking a picture of an accident scene and posting it to Facebook or other social is extremely upsetting and potentially psychologically damaging for those subjected to its viewing and may have tragic consequences if an image of a fatally wounded loved one is seen.  There is no real legal bar to this although an affected party could probably contact the social media platform administrators to block the image and warn the poster if appropriate.  If a picture of a “criminal” is posted it may be more of a tricky situation in that the amateur photographer may be liable for defamation or an infringement of the person’s dignity where that person has not been charged or found guilty by proper law enforcement.

A new Act, the Protection of Personal Information Act, has been passed which regulates the use of a person’s personal information by others and requires consent.  There are penalties for people using that information illicitly and whilst these provisions are not in force yet, they will be very soon.

There are limits to the types of pictures that you can post as a user of social media.  At the very least you could get barred by the site itself and at worst fall foul of the law.