Social Networks: Licence to defame?

One is never amazed at how some members of the society hide behind the social networks like Facebook and Twitter, among others, and “freedom of expression” defence defaming other people while forgetting limitations thereof.

One was therefore shocked and perplexed this morning to learn of a comment made by Clement Reloaded Moroka on a Facebook group, The SA Political Forum, last night, 8 April 2014 that President Jacob “Zuma tested positive, after it was found he is taking a whoonga drug+arvs pills”.

This is the most defaming and derogatory (forget disrespectful and insulting) that I immediately alerted the group Administrators of the comment, asking that it be removed from the group. While the administrator later confirmed the comment has since been removed, he however could not confirm whether Moroka had been removed from the group as a member.

What further shocked me about this comment is that Moroka statement was stated as a fact that President Jacob Zuma is HIV+ and taking the ARVs treatment. The comments were further made in such a way that a reasonable reader would believe Moroka as the medical practitioner who had diagnosed the President with the disease. Whether Moroka is indeed a medical practitioner or not is to date unclear as I never even bothered to asking him this.

It was equally disappointing to learn with shock at the level of comments that supported Moroka’s allegations. They noted the President’s previous sexual encounter with an HIV+ woman as a confirmation that he was infected (emphasis). This, in my view, is not only disrespectful and insulting but it was further defaming.

Defending their comments, Moroka’s supporters said (before his statement was deleted by the administrator) the President was disrespectful and deserved to be disrespected too, and they based their disrespect and insulting him on the many corruption charges that had since been dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority – a decision the Democratic Alliance has asked to be reviewed – and the now controversial security upgrades at his private residence at Nkandla.

In my complaint to the group administrator posted in its wall, while a few concurred with me that Moroka’s comments were insulting, disrespectful and defamatory – many accused me of being an ANC puppet (despite my being not a member of any political party). They said I should not think like an African in Africa (reference to a statement Zuma previously said), claiming they are only critical of his action. It appeared many of them hid behind the “freedom of expression” defence, but forgetting limitations thereof.

According to Section 36(1) of the Constitution of 108 of 1996, Bill of Rights – especially section 10 on Human Dignity and Freedom of Expression on section 16 of the Constitution, “may be limited only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom…” To Moroka’s supporters, the comments were justified and dignified and could not be limited as per section 36(1) of the Constitution.

I have since alerted the President’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, and the ANC’s Senzi Ngubane, among others, of Moroka’s comments and will have to see if they act on them or not. While I believe action should be taken, it is however up to the President himself how he deals with this one.

That Vivienne Catherine Basson was reportedly fired by his employer, Ericsson, for her comments that “Effing Kaffir… dont (sic) deserve to live” and should “rot in hell” should be a lesson everyone, myself included, that we cannot hide behind social networks and our misunderstood right to “freedom of expression” defence while ignoring the limitations thereof as clearly stipulated in our laws, especially in the Constitution.

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