It is important to remember that anything broadcast on a WhatsApp group may be regarded as being broadcast to the public domain. Picture Max Pixel

Parenting has never been an easy task but living in the new technological era many parents find themselves in a position of being unprepared. 

Parents give their children phones, so they can stay connected and entertained, but without realising it, teens are paying more attention to smartphones than anything else which may have negative influence on teens and how they behave. 

Therefore, as a parent it is essential to have a strong relationship with your children and to educate them about being responsible when using social media.

For example, one of the most popular applications that facilitates easy communications amongst teens is known as WhatsApp. One of the favourite features of WhatsApp is a group page. 

It is important to remember that anything broadcast on a WhatsApp group may be regarded as being broadcast to the public domain, when a discussion or a debate is initiated or joined and where there are several members within the group.

Please find a few legal pointers below for parents regarding the safety of their children while using social media. The key is to stay involved in a way that makes your children understand that you respect their privacy but that they need to look out for their own safety and prevent any unnecessary legal consequences.

Share appropriate content

South African law protects a person’s reputation and good standing in society and provides that the unjustified publication – oral and written – of anything damaging to a person’s reputation may entitle the injured person to claim damages against the defamer on the basis of defamation.

It is also important to remember that the law in South Africa treats a WhatsApp administrator as if they are an editor of a newspaper and they are held responsible for the content of the pages they manage. 

This warning refers to a WhatsApp group administrator who was arrested in India after a member of the group shared an edited image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Therefore, it is important for parents to remind their kids to be mindful of the groups they have joined before posting any content. Thoroughly read the contents of any article or post received before sharing on group pages because you are responsible for anything you post.

Avoid verbal abuse, bullying and attacks

One of the most important guidelines parents need to ensure are conveyed to teens is the need to avoid hate speech or anything that could incite violent behaviour in others. Such conduct may lead to criminal liability in the form of crimen injuria. 

Crimen injuria is a crime under South African law, defined to be the act of "unlawfully, intentionally and seriously impairing the dignity of another." Although difficult to precisely define, the crime is used in the prosecution of certain instances of road rage, stalking, racially offensive language,emotional or psychological abuse and sexual offences against minors.

Group pages are platforms to exchange ideas and socialize and not a mechanism to publicly attack or exploit others. If the aforementioned occurs, it is best to leave the page to avoid any negative consequences that may occur thereafter such as vindication, stalking and even extreme forms of harassment.

I believe that teenagers should be more alert whilst using social media as there are many undesired consequences which can stem from their conduct which may impact upon their future lives and careers. Abusive remarks, posting inappropriate content and degrading others should never be entertained. 

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that they discuss these legal implications with their teens as soon as possible, before any unintended negative consequences arise.

Nazli Londt is from De Beer Attorneys