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cyber crime web South Africans who use social media platforms will soon have to be much more careful and think twice before posting on social media

At The Legal Advice Office; we receive enquiries from time to time about defamatory posts having been posted on various platforms and requests for assistance as to what one can do in those circumstances.

Clearly, some of these posts are defamatory and the Law of Defamation can be utilised to protect one's good name and reputation.

However the government authorities are also aware of this increasing trend and have promulgated the Cyber Crimes Bill; and as a result, one must be careful as to what one posts these days as malicious messaging over social media could soon send you to prison.

What is the Cyber Crimes bill?

As stated above, all South Africans who use social media platforms will soon have to be much more careful and think twice about messages they send over WhatsApp and other social media platforms, or post on Facebook, as the Cyber Crimes Bill (“Bill”), which was adopted into law last year and is in the process of being enacted, attempts to police malicious messaging.

Cybercrime is on the increase and the Bill essentially aims to put a stop to these acts, keep people safe from criminals and terrorists, and improve the security of the country.

It brings South Africa into line with other countries’ cyber laws.

The practical impact of the Bill on all organisations and individuals is significant and unfortunately mostly negative. It impacts on all of us who process data or use a computer.

As a result, one should be aware of its main provisions.

Here is a brief summary:

Contravening the provisions set out in the Bill could lead to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years, or to both a fine and imprisonment. The Bill fundamentally intends to curb the number of harmful messages, which by definition, now cover a wide range of subject areas that do the rounds on social media.

The Bill criminalises, amongst other actions, the following acts in particular:

1. Disrupting another’s personal details: By sharing another’s personal details online for malicious purposes, without their knowledge and/or consent.

2. Unlawful sharing of intimate images: By publishing and/or distributing another’s nude intimate images or multimedia files of an intimate nature will constitute a harmful disclosure of pornography, which the Bill seeks to regulate. The Bill describes an “intimate image” as both real and simulated messages which shows the person as nude or displays his/her genital organs or anal region. This includes instances where the person is identifiable through descriptions in a message or from other information displayed in the data message. These acts can cause extensive reputational damage to another, especially, if the said person, had no intention of making it public.

3. Sharing of information regarding investigations into cybercrimes: The Bill enables the Minister of Justice to make regulations on information sharing. This includes sharing information on cybersecurity incidents, detecting, preventing and investigating cybercrimes.

4.  Inciting damage to property belonging to “a group of persons”: By sharing messages which encourage people to damage property belonging to a certain demographic group, could lead to an arrest simply for the incitement aspect rather than the act. This act includes any implied threats of violence against “a group of persons”.

The Bill was first published on 28 August 2015, then updated on 19 January 2017; and introduced in Parliament on 22 February 2017, where it currently still sits. There have been extensive comments on the Bill during the public participation period in 2017, which comments have been considered and incorporated and was included in the latest version of the Bill published on 23 October 2018. The new version of the Bill creates many new offences, some relating to data, messages, computers and networks.

The Bill has come a long way since its first publication and the overall effect of its provisions will be tested in time to come.

Readers are however advised to take note of the Bill and its consequences before it is signed into law as ignorance of the law will not be an excuse; once it becomes law and you contravene its provisions.

Think before you post in future!

 

Please visit our website at www.legaladviceoffice.co.za or send us an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will respond to your legal queries within 48 hours.

About our author:

Hugh Pollard (Legal Consultant), has a BA LLB and 42 years’ experience in the legal field. 22 years as a practicing attorney and conveyancer; and 20 years as a Legal Consultant.

082-0932304 (Hugh’s Cell Number)

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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