THE ROW over a racist comment on Twitter by South African model Jessica Leandra dos Santos last week has received exposure overseas, and another instance of hate speech, in Cape Town, has highlighted the proliferation of the problem on social networking forums.
Dos Santos, 20, became the centre of controversy after using the “k-word” on Twitter.
Even though her tweet was later removed and she issued an apology, it sparked outrage worldwide as an example of intolerance on social networks.
A representative of law firm Webber Wentzel said in a recent interview that individuals could be charged with hate speech and jailed for posting racist or offensive comments on social networking sites.
In SA, hate speech is not protected under free speech and expression laws.
In the past week a Facebook rant by Ken Sinclair, a student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, also sparked uproar. His comments have also gone viral online as social media users encouraged others to “take a stance against open racism and hate speech on social networks”.
Sinclair posted that he has “seriously had enough of the blacks in this country”, and commented that “they… are ruining our university and our country”, and many more derogatory statements.
It is not clear if Dos Santos and Sinclair will face legal consequences for their statements.
Their rants have people tweeting, posting and commenting about SA as a nation of “racists behind computers”.
Debates about racism still rage in SA, and can be spread quickly via the internet.
Facebook has a list of rights and responsibilities for users, but failure to comply only results in the user’s account being closed.
The policies state that users will not post content that is hateful or threatening or “use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory”.
But, this hasn’t seemed to stop anyone.
Racism on social media sites is not unique to SA.
A Canadian fan of The Hunger Games recently set up a blog titled “Hunger Games Tweets”, exposing offensive tweets commenting on the ethnicities of the film’s characters.
And in the US this week, sports fans unleashed a series of racial comments online after a black player scored the winning goal in a professional hockey game.
On April 18, University of Cape Town students and staff met in a forum to discuss whether or not UCT is racist. It was a means for “students and staff to express even the most contentious of opinions without fear of victimisation”, the UCT website said.
The conversation highlighted a range of experiences and opinions on the topic – pointing to the fact that the debate is expected to continue.