In Germany, social media companies that have at least 2 million users in Germany, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, can be fined as much as 50 million euros ($58.3 million) if they fail to delete comments and posts that are deemed to violate German law.
This is according to an article on npr.org.
With no such law in South Africa, users are being held personally liable for their posts.
South African social media users who fear they might be sued for defamatory posts on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter can now take out cover or add additional cover to their personal insurance policies.
But beware – the policy does not cover racial slurs published on social media.
Simon Colman, Executive Head: Digital Distribution at SHA Specialist Underwriters and an underwriting manager for Santam Ltd, says statistics show that 85% of Facebook users access the platform via their mobile phone, up 77% from 2016. “Increased usage of social media platforms on mobile phones has even further increased the ease of with which people can post to any social media platform. It simply takes one, usually unintentionally, offensive post to spark an outrage on social media platforms, which can lead to major defamation or invasion of privacy legal actions.”
He says in South Africa alone, 16 million people use Facebook, 7.7 million are on Twitter and LinkedIn has 6.1 million users, according to the Ornico SA Social Media Landscape report for 2018. By simply using these platforms, all these millions of users unknowingly expose themselves to possible law suits, which could cost them hundreds of thousands of rands in legal defence costs or pay-outs if found guilty.
Colman says any social media user could make a statement that is not meant to cause any harm but that may lead to public outrage, which can have devastating consequences for the individual. People just don’t realise that they are practically walking around with a digital publishing company in their pockets, without applying the same levels of sensibilities that a professional publisher or journalist would. To make matters worse, just retweeting or sharing someone else’s post on social media can put the individual in the chain of liability.”
So, if you are one of those people who don’t think before you post, you might want to consider paying R120 per year to get cover of R500 000.
Whether this is going to be enough to cover your transgressions is not certain, given that – for instance – earlier this year Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna was fined £40,000 by The Football Association for an Instagram post criticising referee Lee Mason.