The NWU’s student discipline and compliance department hosted Emma Sadleir, renowned social media law specialist, as part of the university’s human rights awareness campaign on its campus in Potchefstroom on 16 May.
Emma was the keynote speaker on the legal, disciplinary and reputational risk of social media. Another speaker, Prof Fika Janse van Rensburg, acting campus rector, highlighted the importance of freedom of speech and social media on the campus. The event was attended by members of the NWU and campus management, staff, student leaders, students and the media.
‘We are all celebrities’
“If you won’t put something on a billboard along a busy road for everyone to see, you should definitely not put it on social media,” Emma said. “I want you to know that every photo that is taken of you from now until you die will be published. If you don’t want your employer, your spouse or grandmother to see it don’t let it exist in digital format. If you put something on the internet it stays there forever; the internet never forgets.”
Emma cautioned about the loss of privacy on social media. “There is no such thing as a free meal. Although we do not pay to use many of the social media sites and platforms, we do pay for it with the information we provide which is often used for advertising purposes.” She says this information can be hacked or land in the wrong hands.
“We have all become celebrities thanks to social media.” This is why it has become even more important to look after your reputation, she said. “Your online ‘CV’, in other words what you post and write on social media platforms, says more about you than what your normal CV does.”
She said many potential employers will Google an applicant’s social media platforms before offering them a job.
‘If you are in the chain you are accountable’
“Reputational harm is more important than the disciplinary and legal harm,” Emma said, singling out the Penny Sparrow case. Although Penny, who was found guilty of hate speech and crimen injuria, has apologised and paid a fine, the damage that was done will remain with her.
Emma also warned about defamation and its legal consequences. “The law says as soon as content has been seen by just one other person it is considered published. In other words it is the same as publishing something on the front page of a newspaper. There is a lot of ignorance in this regard because people believe they have an absolute right to freedom of speech. The right of freedom of expression can however be limited if it is in conflict with any other rights such as the rights to dignity, privacy and reputation.”
In South Africa the law says that any person in the chain of publication is legally responsible for it. The implication of this is that anyone who has the ability to stop the publication of content or dissociate him or herself from it, is also responsible for the publication of it and can thus be legally sued for its contents. This also applies to social media users who retweet, repost and like or associate themselves with posts and content on the various platforms.
‘Use technology to make everyone feel at home’
Prof Fika, referring to social media, said technology should be used in such a way that it contributes to making people feel welcome at the NWU.
“We are proud of our place and the only way in which we can ensure that this sense of pride remains is if we really listen to each other and if we really speak from the heart.” He stressed the importance of students and staff not being inhibited to say how they feel but also warned against the danger of speaking one’s mind in a destructive way that breaks down communication and hurts people’s feelings.
Emma Sadleir, social media specialist, talking about digital content, says sexting, which has become popular, is very dangerous. “Phones can be stolen and even if you trust someone it is still risky. I see many cases of revenge porn on a daily basis and it causes victims irreversible damage.”