Social media users may be responsible for comments made by others and published on their pages which amount to hate speech or harassment. South African courts have already addressed the issue of responsibility for third parties’ comments in Isparta v Richter, where the court found that a Facebook user was liable for defamation based on the fact that they were “tagged” in a defamatory Facebook post and did not subsequently distance themselves from it.

If you have a social media page or profile you should be aware that:

  1. You are responsible for the content on your pages – the fact that comments are made by third parties may not assist in your defence.
  2. You should regularly monitor your pages – Facebook has a setting that allows users to approve posts before they appear on a profile or page.
  3. If you receive a complaint or a request to remove offending content you should do so immediately.

Singer Sunette Bridges recently agreed that posting or allowing racist commentary amounting to hate speech or harassment on her Facebook pages is unlawful. Ms Bridges, who was accused of hate speech and harassment, reached settlement with the South African Human Rights Commission in its case before the Equality Court. The settlement was made an order of court on 31 March 2015.

The order confirms that certain comments posted on the singer’s Facebook pages amounted to hate speech and harassment. In terms of the settlement order, she is required to publish notices distancing herself from such comments and prohibiting such commentary on her pages, including comments that could incite violence. The order acknowledges that Ms Bridges has previously removed racist commentary from her pages, but requires her to regularly monitor her pages, remove offending comments and block the users who make them.

Although the Equality Court was not required to rule on this matter, the order does indicate how online comments should be dealt with by social media users.

The South African Human Rights Commission has stated that that they will monitor the steps taken to ensure that Ms Bridges’ and other social media pages are not used as a platform for hate speech and racism.