Listen to the article now
Given what we’ve unpacked regarding what consumers need to know about the right to privacy and how to protect themselves, we also seek to bring visibility to posting unverified or false information about others. The digital era has completely changed how people produce and consume content in both traditional media and social media. In a world where spreading misinformation is as easy as a retweet, or share, it is important that we educate ourselves about the harmful nature of sharing unverified news and posting sensationalist information or you could end up with serious legal consequences.
What is sensationalism?
According to the Collins dictionary, it is “the presenting of facts or stories in a way that is intended to produce strong feelings of shock, anger, or excitement”. Although sensationalism is a phenomenon commonly used in journalism and media, in the digital era we also see an increased number of people using sensationalism in their social media posts. Either way, the aim is to arouse intense emotional responses and garner many likes, retweets, and shares. Tactics are the same and may include clickbait headlines, being deliberately obtuse and controversial, omitting facts and information. There could be various reasons for choosing the route of sensationalism but these are the common ones.
- Attract a great number of readers
- Increasing viewership on YouTube
- Increasing followers on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook
- Instant fame
Perhaps a more colloquial and familiar term for sensationalism is “clout chasing” which Urban Dictionary defines as “when a person tries to earn undeserved fame, via many things including spam, advertisement in places that you’re not meant to, starting drama with the goal of boosting yourself, etc”. To not become a victim of sensationalism or clout chasing, it becomes your responsibility to ensure that you share correct information on social media. Below are a few ways to stop sensationalist sharing on social media:
- Look for news articles from reputable sources
- Before sharing a social media post, check whether it is shared in such a way that is fair and respectful to the subject matter
Can your social media post get you into trouble?
The simple answer is yes. You need to remember that a social media platform isn’t necessarily the place for you to say and do as you please; in fact, there could be some serious legal consequences for certain posts, uploads, and comments. If what you post on Twitter,Facebook or Instagram is defamatory in nature, it is very possible to end up with a lawsuit.
Defamation and the possible criminal charges
Defamation can be seen as any wrongful, intentional publication of words or behaviour relating to another person that injures or demeans their status, good name, character or reputation. As much as we have freedom of speech in South Africa but the constitution clearly states that “The right does not extend to propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm”. At the beginning of 2018, South Africa saw one of the biggest cases of defamation charges filed by celebrity couple Basestana and Romeo Khumalo against individuals who were spreading rumors on social regarding an inappropriate video featuring another local celebrity. In more recent times media icon Bonang Mathebe sued the local podcaster Rea Gopane, for defamation of character for something he shared to his audience about her based on a rumour he heard. Therefore, any posts that violate the constitution can land you in very hot water and no one is above it.
Below are some social media conditions to be aware of from LIPCO Legal Services:
- You may not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.
- You may not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
- You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.
- You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.
- You are responsible for any activity that occurs under your screen name.
- You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Instagram users.
- You are solely responsible for your conduct and any data, text, information, screen names, graphics, photos, profiles, audio and video clips, links (“Content”) that you submit, post, and display on the Instagram service. Depending on the severity of the case, you might just receive a warning and be asked to remove the post, or if a post is deemed offensive, your profile could be deleted.
Social media tip:
Think before you share and think before you post. Always ask yourself, “is what I’m posting factual, and can it be substantiated by proof?”If not, rather don’t post it. At the end of the day, it is imperative that you are aware of what you post and make it public on social media as it can have negative consequences. It all boils down to making responsible choices.