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Social media platforms and the law

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Around 27-million South Africans spend an average of three hours a day tweeting, posting and liking media on international social media platforms, but few of them consider their legal recourse on these platforms.
“We Are Social’s 2016 Digital Report indicates that none of South Africa’s top 10 favourite social media platforms were developed locally. And this poses a challenge in dealing with hate speech and other unlawful material posted on these platforms, says South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA).
Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to ISPA, explains: “South Africans abroad, in a social media sense, cannot expect protection from the laws of their own country when trying to have this content removed. If one chooses to interact with international platforms, one must use international mechanisms to solve any problems.
“We may have fundamental rights to privacy and dignity, but these can be extremely difficult to exercise where a platform is hosted in another country.”
Within the South African online environment, web users have a useful tool in ISPA’s take-down procedure. Should a member of the public discover online content believed to be unlawful, a request to remove, or take-down, the material can be submitted to ISPA as long as the content is hosted locally by an ISPA member.
While ISPA has seen growing use of the take-down notice, because none of the web’s biggest social media platforms are hosted by ISPA members, the mechanism created under South African law simply does not apply.
Many – probably most – social media users the world over do not properly consult the terms of service they agree to when signing up for social media services. Cull advises South African users to check these terms for provisions and remedies specifically relating to the combatting of hate speech and other unlawful materials.
“This is particularly true for parents allowing their children to use these platforms, who need to know what remedies they have to get content removed if the child is the victim of an incident,” he says.
The Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill introduced into Parliament this year will hopefully help locals looking for redress for unlawful electronic communications, including cyberbullying and revenge pornography – but it cannot extend the reach of South African law to international platforms to get content removed.