File photo: Elise Amendola / AP
Durban - Social media users have been advised to stay clear of posting confidential police information, including stop and searches on the roads, or face their day in court.

Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane said posting police information on social media, prevented effective policing and instead assisted criminals in evading arrest. It was unlawful, he said, and those found in the red would be arrested.

This comes in the wake of a Durban man who allegedly leaked private information about Durban Metro Police roadblocks on a WhatsApp group chat recently. He could face a charge of defeating the ends of justice.

Metro spokesman Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad, said the matter was being investigated.

“We cannot reveal any information that will affect our investigations," he said. "We are taking this matter seriously and want to be absolutely thorough before action is taken.”

After investigations, a docket could be opened and the suspect would need to appear in court.

Sewpersad warned the public to be cognisant of what they posted.

“Don’t give out information that is restricted to the police. Be responsible on social media. We hold roadblocks to curtail people from driving drunk and possibly preventing alcohol related accidents.”

The administrators of various social networking groups spoke on the rules and regulations that needed to be adhered to.

Vishal Dooki, treasurer of the Newlands East Community Policing Forum and administrator of the Newlands Sector 1 crime WhatsApp group, said: “We have rules and regulations when it comes to such acts. Members are initially warned and should it be happen a second time, they are immediately deleted.

“I have been deleting many people off the group as I have a low tolerance for those who prevent the police from working at their optimum.”

He said a doctor and policeman posted information on roadblocks in Parlock and Reservoir Hills and were deleted.

'I even remove myself from local crime groups because of similar situations.'

Mayville CPF public relations officer for the provincial cluster Zain Soosiwala said: “Many tech savvy crime fighters and CPFs have used Whatsapp and Zello to great effect.

“Unfortunately, some individuals use these platforms to defeat the ends of justice. Those who post about roadblocks are enablers to a very dangerous situation that allows drunk drivers or unroadworthy cars to circumvent the law.”

Chairman of the Crossmoor Sub Sector CPF and executive member of the Chatsworth CPF Zain Kassim said he too removed offenders off their group chats.

“Steve Middleton, the acting head of metro, has made it clear that members of chat groups posting this information will be charged with defeating the ends of justice," he said."By making this information widely available, criminals and drunken drivers are fully aware of where not to be at a given time.

“At these roadblocks, law enforcement looks for drunk drivers, wanted criminals, stolen vehicles and unroadworthy vehicles. How are we to create a crime-free environment if criminals are given the heads up?

“We have a good working relationship with law enforcement and we need to allow them to do their jobs;" he said. "A lot of planning and resources go into these roadblocks. We can’t expect the law to be on our side if we ourselves cannot abide by it.”

Removing the perpetrators 

Deputy Chair of Verulam CPF and Chairman of Sector 2 CPF Jeeten Jaganath was unaware that posting of roadblocks was a crime and advised members not to publicise such information. Group members often included members of the community, he said, and it was difficult to control what was posted in the open forum.

“We therefore cannot be liable for what is posted," he said. "All we can do is remove the perpetrators.”

Jaganath, who is the administrator of several crime groups, including Verulam Crime Monitoring, RSA Community Chat (Riyadh) and the Sector 2 CPF Crime, said they encouraged postings on crime and, or criminal activities and protest actions, suspicious behaviour, motor vehicle accidents, fires, missing persons, medical emergencies and water and electrical faults.

Racist, discriminatory and sexist comments, debates and accusations, he said, were not allowed, as well as irrelevant topics, fighting and swearing.

“There is also no room for chit chats, pictures with faces exposed, sharing of personal information or postings of videos unless it is approved by admin.”

'Verify before you share'

Social media analyst Yavi Madurai said communication of people warning each other of potential roadblocks has been happening for a while.

“If someone leaves a party, the first thing they look for is roadblocks, she said. "The information is available everywhere. But with that said, be careful when you do these things.”

She said one should accept responsibility when commenting on an open platform.

“Also verify information before you share. Research, Google, call people. Our initial reaction is to share by just reading a headline, sometimes not even watching or reading a post to the end. You can hurt someone’s reputation or even worse, ruin your own, by what you post.”