Cape Town pensioner shunned over Whatsapp porno post

09 February 2020 - 00:00 By suthentira govender
A Cape Town pensioner 'accidentally' shared offensive material in a Whatsapp group that left his neighbours flabbergasted.
A Cape Town pensioner 'accidentally' shared offensive material in a Whatsapp group that left his neighbours flabbergasted.
Image: STAN HONDA / AFP

When a Cape Town pensioner recently shared pornographic material on his gated community’s WhatsApp group, little did he expect he would have to fork out thousands of rands to hire a lawyer to get him reinstated after he was kicked off the group.

The man, in his 60s, is one of an increasing number of people getting into hot water on community chat groups for racist, inappropriate, explicit or offensive posts. Social media law expert Emma Sadleir said the man had approached her after he “accidentally” shared the offensive material that left his neighbours flabbergasted.

He complained that being kicked off the group chat had left him in the dark about the day-to-day issues affecting the close-knit community, including those of security.

He then hired Sadleir to write to the group’s administrators, explaining that he had sent the offensive material in error because he was not technologically savvy.

The man was reinstated but the group setting was changed, allowing only administrators to post there.

Increasingly, South African lawyers specialising in social media law are dealing with such cases.

Steffie Betts, an administrator of a busy Durban neighbourhood group, is accustomed to the perils of running a WhatsApp group, often fraught with drama, fear, porn and slanging matches.

“There’s a horrible preoccupation with drama, blood and gore. If they can add pictures, they do … pure sensationalism.”

She’s found that another challenge is with the misinterpretation of posts.

“The nuances of language often result in a slanging match, with dreadful insults, including the ever-present racism and sexism.”

Just as community WhatsApp groups have become minefields, so too have work groups, where companies are not hesitating to either discipline or fire employees who have brought them into disrepute by posting inappropriate material to the platform.

“I had a woman who was fired for sending an anti-Semitic Nazi meme on a work WhatsApp group,” Sadleir said.

“Many people don’t realise that WhatsApp is a social media platform. The biggest issue is that given the immediacy of WhatsApp, people often send the wrong thing.”

Bowmans, a law firm that advises companies on the use of social media in the workplace, has seen an increase in employee dismissals for misconduct on social media.

“The instances generally extend to where they’ve published racist or sexist comments online or where they have used social media to harass their employers or colleagues,” said Ros Davey, a partner at Bowmans.

Davey said though there was no uniform legislation governing the use of social media, “there is increasingly a push by legislators to make provision for the appropriate use of social media in existing pieces of legislation”.

Social media lawyer Diana Schwarz said offenders could face crimen injuria, child abuse and defamation charges.

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