It may seem absurd, but then again, that’s perhaps the most fitting word to describe the past couple of weeks in South Africa. The government have indeed warned South Africans that recklessly Tweeting about the current wave of xenophobia driving protests across the country could see them prosecuted.
How can Tweeting about xenophobia land you in legal trouble?
Now, don’t worry – we aren’t talking about some form of “thought police” here. But an obscure law could see some users hauled in front of a court for “recycling old video material” and passing it off as a current event.
In the past seven days, a huge flow of fake news has distorted the narrative on xenophobia in South Africa. Despite the tensions being very real themselves, some claims made by high-profile Tweeters haven’t been. Even Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi had to do a bit of mythbusting this week:
No schools are on fire in Katlehong please don’t spread fake news. https://twitter.com/nomienomz/status/1169157471287631873 …1,9359:48 AM – Sep 4, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy2,280 people are talking about this
Fake news you need to avoid
There are two standout “main offenders” in this category, however: The disturbing pieces of multimedia – both capturing men who are burning alive – have been uploaded to Twitter and Facebook, suggesting that xenophobia-fuelled protesters are now setting fire to foreign nationals. However, it’s total bollocks.
One is a viral video posted earlier this year from Hillbrow, where a South African is subjected to the horrendous ordeal, and another depicts a protester from Mozambique in 2008. These two clips sparked fears that the violence related to xenophobia had gotten much worse over the past few days, when it really wasn’t the case.
Govt urges vigilance about social media messages that contain alleged warnings of planned violence against foreign nationals. Creation & distribution of such messages potentially open social media users to prosecution, as fake messaging intends to instil panic and cause disorder.
Xenophobia – how to avoid breaking the law
According to the South African Government, a careless quote-Tweet or retweet of falsely-attributed multimedia could “open users up to prosecution”. Not only is it a crime to erroneously cause panic by spreading misinformation, but those who have threatened to retaliate to the violence could be contravening hate speech laws:
“Recycling old video material on social media as well as ‘war talk’ by certain individuals only seeks to fuel tensions between South Africans and other Africans. The police will continue their work to restore order and government urges all law-abiding citizens to work alongside SAPS to isolate these criminals.”
“Government urges vigilance about social media messages that contain alleged warnings of planned violence against foreign nationals. Creation and distribution of such messages potentially open social media users to prosecution, as fake messaging intends to instil panic and cause disorder.”SA Government statement