In light of the terrifying statistics of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in South Africa, social media has been abuzz with names of alleged perpetrators. In the digital age one is able to tweet that someone has assaulted you. That tweet can go viral and ‘name’ and ‘shame’ someone who is added to a list of perpetrators. However, if that person is innocent, imagine the effects it can have on their life.
No debate, GBV is a huge issue in the country! Statistics indicate that there were 41,583 reported rape cases between 2018/2019, with 2,771 women murdered. Rapists, murderers and abusers need to face criminal charges – but false accusations can make it even harder for the real perpetrators to be brought to book.
Besides the fact that falsely accusing someone is morally wrong, there are legal consequences the accuser – and retweeters – could face, whether these accusations were in real life or even just on social media.
The falsely accused individual could sue you for libel under the Defamation Law. The Oxford Dictionary describes libel as “a published/written false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation.” ‘Publish’ means almost any form of communication; it could be a spoken or written allegation. A statement can’t be deemed defamatory if it was made to the person who’s being defamed, there needs to be a third party involved.
Media law specialist Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti explains, “The law of defamation says that if you put out a statement about somebody which would result in other people thinking less of that person, their reputation being harmed by that statement, then you are potentially liable.”
Okyerebea warns against retweeting or sharing accusations on social media without first establishing whether these are true or not.
“In defamation law, we have what we call a repetition rule, which means if you repeat a defamatory statement, then you are equally liable,” Okyerebea adds.
South African law presumes the accused innocent until proven guilty and if you disregard this then you might find yourself in deep libel waters. If found guilty of defamation, you could be liable for a hefty fine compensating for damaging the person’s good name or be asked to release a public apology and retraction of your statement.
Perpetrators need to be brought to book but caution and responsibility must be practised at all times. People’s lives could be permanently ruined if these accusations are made unjustly. That is why accusations of a crime need to be made in a court of law so perpetrators can be properly judged and sentenced.
Tell us: Why do you think it’s dangerous to name names on social media?