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Editing or deleting a post can still land you in hot water, legal expert warns

Beware: Once you've posted something, and it has been seen, even if you delete the post or message, there still could be legal consequences. Picture: Jae Park/UnSplash

Beware: Once you've posted something, and it has been seen, even if you delete the post or message, there still could be legal consequences. Picture: Jae Park/UnSplash

Published Jun 9, 2022

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A change of heart or regret after impulse won’t absolve you of legal action, after deleting or editing a published text message or tweet, according to a legal expert.

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Chanique Rautenbach, a senior associate at Barnard Incorporated Attorneys, told IOL Tech that editing or deleting a tweet or text message can still land you on the wrong side of the law after it has been sent.

“As long as a message, text, or tweet has been seen by another party, you can be held liable for legal action if the content is deemed as defamatory or intended as a form of abuse,” Rautenbach said.

Her comments come on the tail-end of the latest features or proposed functionality from major tech companies to social networks and software.

In the latest news, iPhone maker, Apple announced the introduction of a feature to its Messages app that will allow users to edit messages after they have been sent.

On Monday, the announcement was made during the US company’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). It also touted new lock screens for weekdays and weekends, among other software updates, coming to Apple products.

Apple managed to pip social network Twitter into launching the feature, which had previously been teased by business magnate Elon Musk among other intentions, in his quest to acquire the platform.

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However, the move has raised an eyebrow among users, especially those in the legal fraternity, which highlighted concerns for users who might not necessarily understand the legal implications of using the function across social networks.

Evidentiary Proof

Rautenbach told IOL Tech that even if a published message or tweet is edited at any time in the future, legal implications lie in the post being viewed by another party and in the evidentiary proof that the message was sent and received by another party.

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“There is a misconception that if a message or post is deleted within an hour that no legal action can take place, but even if a message is deleted, if another person can prove that the message was sent, it can be utilised in court,” Rautenbach said.

She added that evidentiary proof could be as simple as a screenshot by the recipient or viewer of a message.

“Even if you change the way you feel after you have sent a post or message, if it is deemed to be a form of abuse, you can be charged. This is because the damage has already been done,” she said.

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Apple’s Message feature and other new features are expected to reach iPhone users soon.

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