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  • Writer's pictureThe Kaplan Team

LET'S TALK The law on cyber bullying

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

A 13 year old girl from Pretoria committed suicide after a photograph was sent around her school via WhatsApp. She had distributed an image to someone which was then forwarded on various WhatsApp groups. Other learners teased the girl about the image. So traumatised was she by the incident that she sadly took her own life. 

What does our law say on sharing of explicit content on social media?

A person who shares sexually explicit material concerning someone without that person’s consent could be held liable for the payment of damages to the victim. The conduct may be defamatory by nature or be deemed to have caused personal injury.

The term “revenge porn” is often linked to the sharing of sexually explicit material where rejected lovers try to inflict harm upon their previous partners by distributing such material.

What does the law say about “sexting”?

Apart from the potential for a damages claim, the act of distributing sexually explicit material concerning someone without that person’s consent may also constitute a crime. Effectively, pornographic content has been created and distributed unlawfully.

What if someone infringes my dignity on social media?

If someone shares sexually explicit material concerning you without your consent, you can lay a charge of “crimen injuria” with the South African Police Services.  The crime of “crimen injuria” is defined as “the wilful injury to someone's dignity, caused by the use of obscene or racially offensive language or gestures”.

What if I send a video of myself to someone and the content is illegal – can they do what they want with it?

No they can’t.  If you send something to someone that is illegal by nature and someone then forwards the content on, that person becomes responsible for the publication of the content.

What about privacy infringement?

You would only be allowed to infringe upon someone else’s privacy if you have received their consent to do so or it is for the benefit of the general public.

What about our Harassment Act?

If you have been or are being bullied on social media, you can approach the court for help.  The Harassment Act provides for the grant, by the appropriate court, for an interim protection order. The process to obtain such an order is relatively easy and the court simply needs to be satisfied that someone has or is harassing you and that harm has or may be caused to you.

What if I don’t know who published the content?

In order to track down offenders who bully behind the cyber wall, the Harassment Act stipulates that electronic service providers can be forced to hand over the name, surname, identity number and address of the person to whom the IP address, e-mail or cell phone number belongs.

Contact our offices for further advice or assistance.

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This article is not intended to constitute legal advice and is produced for information purposes only and to provide a general understanding of the legal position relating to the topic. It is recommended that advice relating to the specific circumstances of your situation be sought from our attorneys before acting upon the content of this article. This article was written at a particular point in time and accordingly may not always reflect the most recent legal developments, if any, applicable to the relevant topic. Kaplan Blumberg and its partners and/or employees, are not responsible for any consequences which may follow upon any decision taken to act upon the information provided in this article.

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