'All are liable for social media comments'
Johannesburg - Social media law experts have weighed in on the debate regarding the publication of excerpts of the conversation between Judge Mabel Jansen and social activist Gillian Schutte.
They argue people must be liable and face consequences for what they share on social media.
An electronic law specialist, Philipa Jane Farley, says there’s a phenomenon called the “online disinhibition effect”, which means people misbehave online and freely disclose information they should not otherwise be disclosing.
“They have little inhibition. When we're online, we cannot see the unspoken cues that people make, such as racist remarks or huge behaviour generalisations.
“The person I'm talking to will change their facial expression, like raise their eyebrows or frown at me immediately.”
Media expert Dario Milo said if people express racist views they cannot expect to have them kept private.
Asked if Jansen could sue Schutte for defamation for disclosing a private conversation on social media, Milo said: “No, she (Jansen) will lose.
“There is no privacy infringement by Gillian and it is in the public interest the judge be exposed for expressing these views.”
However, social media expert Emma Sadleir said there was privacy infringement but public interest outweighs this in this matter.
Legal experts are in agreement that social media is like all other forms of publication, which makes one liable for consequences for what one posts or tweets.
The rules that apply in the offline world also apply in the online world, said Milo.
Sadleir added if you wouldn't put a message on a billboard, then don't do so on a digital platform.
The controversy around Jansen started after Schutte posted excerpts of their written exchanges on Facebook, which went viral this week.
Jansen is alleged to have told Schutte that rape and murder were part of local black culture.
“In their culture a woman is there to pleasure them. Period. I still have to meet a black girl who was not raped at about 12. I am dead serious.”
According to the Code of Judicial Conduct, judges must avoid and dissociate from racist comments at all times.
Jansen has been placed on special leave.
The Sunday Independent