News / South Africa / Local News

Jason Milford
3 minute read
28 Feb 2018
3:46 pm

When social media lets criminals get off scot-free

Jason Milford

Sharing pictures of potential criminals is incriminating, and could lead to social media users' arrests.

People who continuously share photographs of suspected criminals on social media may end up in court themselves, Centurion Rekord reports.

So-called “keyboard warriors” have been identified as one of the reasons why some criminals manage to get off scot-free.

READ MORE: ANC distances itself from ‘fake statements’ on social media

Gauteng police recently appealed to the public to think twice before sharing pictures and CCTV footage of crime scenes or suspected criminals on social media.

Social media was potentially a helpful tool in curbing crime, but often it winds up influencing and compromising identity parades, said Lyttelton police spokesman Captain Dave Miller.

“Any subsequent identification parade can be invalid because it is then considered biased,” said Miller.

“Exposing suspects publicly before court procedures could harm investigations,” agreed police spokesman Captain Mavela Masondo.

He also said the circulation of false information on social media could jeopardise police investigations.

Masondo said police had noted with concern an increase in false posts on social media.

Recently, for example, two different hoax messages circulated on WhatsApp alleged suspects responsible for last week’s Mabopane highway cash-in-transit heist had been arrested.

One version claimed three armed suspects linked to the heist had been killed in police crossfire. Photos of the alleged killed suspects were circulated.

Another WhatsApp message falsely implicated a police officer in the heist. Photos of a police identity card even accompanied the post.

“People who purposely mislead the police could be charged with defeating the ends of justice,” said Masondo.

“We appreciate the use of social media to communicate, share news and exchange ideas. We, however, discourage falsehoods and the dissemination of fake news, unconfirmed reports and hoaxes.”

Masondo confirmed that no one had been arrested so far in connection with the cash-in-transit robbery in question and that and investigations were continuing.

According to Social media and the South African law – what you need to know when posting on social media by Miller Bosman Le Roux Attorneys, social media platforms often bring out the worst in people, often without thought as to the consequences of their actions.

“The moment something is posted on social media sites, it is considered ‘published’ and is therefore subject to the same laws applicable to traditional media, such as newspapers. Accordingly, claims for defamation and hate speech, as well as dismissal or disciplinary action for misconduct, become very real.”

Courts recently set a new legal precedent after it granted a Facebook user an interdict, preventing a friend from posting about his personal life on the platform after she had defamed him.

In another case, a woman was awarded R40 000 in damages after claiming her former husband and his new wife were bad-mouthing her on Facebook. The judge found that although the former husband was not the author of the postings, he was tagged in and knew about them. He thus allowed his name to be coupled with that of his new wife, creating liability jointly with the author of the postings.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to posting on social media is to ask yourself whether you would be willing to say what you want to post out loud in a room full of people or colleagues. If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t be posting it.

ANC distances itself from ‘fake statements’ on social media

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