Grappling with a new super power
Instead of a private message, he erroneously sent it via his public account! He later admitted sending lewd photos to at least six women and was forced to resign from Congress. Both social media mishaps cost these men their high profile positions.
For lawmakers the Internet is still a vast, unknown terrain that requires new rules. The South African Film and Publications Board released a revised version of the Act of 1996 recently and the public had until Thursday of this week to make submissions for further revisions.
Any published content that is sexually inapproppriate or shows disrespect for the right to human dignity of any person, or constitutes incitement to cause harm, could lead to criminal prosecution. The policy will therefore allow the Board to request that social media posts considered “potentially harmful and disturbing to children of certain ages” be taken down or classified if a complaint is received.
Many felt that the first draft was too broad and unclear and the Film and Publications Board had hoped the new version was vastly improved. However, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) made a submission this month that even the latest draft was insufficient.
SAJBD National Chairman Jeff Katz says that the extremely complex nature of electronic media cannot be effectively regulated simply by broadening the already existing act and that further clarification was required.
“Even if the proposed amendments were to be enacted, the FBA would still have shortcomings as it has not sufficiently recognised the realities of how hate speech and racism is disseminated today,” Katz said.
The Jewish Board said it believed the committee should look to places like the United States to follow their guidelines on internet policy. The Board’s submission also raised the obstacles of regulating the forwarding or retweeting of racist material, which is further complicated when people use pseudonyms or stolen identities.
What is clear is that with explosion of content, the Internet is a very difficult place to regulate and it is going to be a learning process – even for the regulators.
Indeed, we are all trying to grapple with the still sometimes unfathomable worldwide web. At the SA Jewish Report, we are faced with similar intricate and sensitive challenges. Our readers at times submit outrageously offensive comments for posting (which we are luckily able to vet) that if we did publish, could easily be construed as hate speech.
And even though we do censor, we do not always get it right. Only last month, a Jewish community figure was most offended by a post. The intention of the post had been misunderstood by us, but once it was out there, the damage was done.
We have also recently been taken to the SA Human Rights Commission by Mohammed Desai, head of the South African BDS movement, for posting an image of him with a speech bubble that said “Shoot the Jew”. He complained that it constituted hate speech and had resulted in a threat to his personal safety. We are still awaiting the result.
And in our personal spaces, apart from racial and political sensitivities, as parents, we also need to be vigilant about what content our children are exposed to. Just in my own circle of Jewish parents, I am aware of two primary school-aged children who were emotionally traumatised for months after unwittingly viewing explicit sexual content and violence on YouTube.
The Internet is indeed a scary global club for which we all have membership. About 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute and almost five billion videos are watched on that site every day!
We can only celebrate the extraordinary advantages of instant access to knowledge if we do it with vigilance and caution. So it is vital that our regulators get it right – not only for us but more urgently for our children.