16 February 2017
JOHANNESBURG – An investigative hearing into racism and social media kicked off in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Wednesday at the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC’s) offices.
The SAHRC engaged with key stakeholders, including the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the SA Police Service (SAPS), and Helen Suzman Foundation on their submissions of what measures can be used to punish racial hate speech on the social media platforms.
Ebele Okobi, representing Facebook, stated that the social media platform was rather an active member of society which allows people to create content and engage with one another.
“Social media is the mirror of how the society is. If you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see you move away. So hate speech doesn’t only exist online but in our societies as well,” said Okobi.
Okabi said they were not getting a lot of hate speech reporting in South Africa, and said it often takes Facebook time to find out about the post.
“It’s either people are not aware that they can report hate speech or they are not certain on what content to report. If they do they don’t do it directly to us so it really hard to keep track of what post was reported.”
Sibongile Mzinyathi from NPA said if a person shared hate speech content on social media they could be held liable for perpetuating racism and be prosecuted.
“The prosecutor, however, has to look into the motive behind the person who shared the racist comment.”
The HSF said criminal law cannot be used as one of the remedies for racism on social media.
“Criminal law is not a quick solution to public anger. Racism manifests in society in many ways and the only way is to cut it off at the roots level, at home. Acknowledge that it exist, because it I learnt it can also be unlearnt, but it won’t be as easy to unlearn it,” the foundation said.
“If we use criminal law as punishment for racism, we will lose a way of healing cause racism is an injury to the soul.”
They suggested that one of the series of answers in trying to come up with a punishment for racism was to reconcile prejudice and tolerance.
Meanwhile, Constitutional Court Justice, Albie Sachs argued that racism was more than prejudice but it was rather oppression.
“Racism has a potential to be catastrophic,” said Sachs.
The SAPS argued that criminal law could be used as one of the remedies to prosecute racism and said that hate speech should be criminalised, because words incite violence.
The submissions on racism and social media will continue on Thursday at SAHRC.