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Human Rights Comm urges ‘responsible’ social media use

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 16 Mar 2023

Ahead of this year's Human Rights Day, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has introduced its Social Media Charter.

This, in an effort to influence positive change on social media platforms, as some have increasingly become breeding grounds for harmful content.

South Africa has been found to be among the countries with the highest prevalence of cyber bullying, based on a 2018 report by research company Ipsos Global Advisor.

According to the SAHRC, reported violations of people’s rights on various social media platforms have been surfacing, undermining its efforts to promote a culture that is respecting of human rights.

The commission also points to receiving an influx of complaints surrounding hate speech on social media.

Resultantly, it has developed the Social Media Charter, to counteract what it describes as “unsociable and unconstitutional” conduct on social media.

The charter is aimed as serving as a resource tool for parents, children, students, academics and teachers. For universities, employers and corporates, it can be a tool in developing their own social media policies.

“Social media platforms are unquestionably a powerful tool and therefore while freedoms such as expression are important, they should be exercised with respect for the rights of other persons,” it states.

“The charter further focuses on children and the need to protect this vulnerable group, suggesting ways in which children can be protected, and how children themselves can exercise their rights responsibly, while mindful of others’ rights.”

Speaking during the launch event, professor Pamela Maseko, executive dean in the faculty of humanities at Nelson Mandela University, described the charter as a “significant” step towards creating a more ethical and responsible online community.

“Social media has become a central part of our lives and it's easy to forget that what we say and do on these platforms can have real-world consequences. The charter serves as a reminder that we have a responsibility to use social media in a way that respects the dignity of others and upholds their human rights.

”Social media is not a neutral space; it can be used to perpetuate hate speech, discrimination and violence.

“We must reflect on our use of social media and commit ourselves to use it in a way that promotes the principles of human rights and dignity.”

SAHRC acting COO Eric Mokonyama added that the launch of the charter is a milestone in the protection of human rights.

Mokonyama explained the charter has been years in the making, and follows landmark hearings on racism on social media platforms in 2017.

“This is not just the commission’s charter; it is the country’s Social Media Charter. It is ours as much as it is yours. This charter, which serves as a guideline for how we should use social media responsibly, is everyone’s charter.

“The charter provides a set of guidelines for individuals and organisations to promote responsible, ethical and respectful behaviour on social media.”

Mokonyama indicated it’s critical to protect public human rights online, adding the charter is an important step towards achieving that goal.

The SAHRC is a national institution mandated to promote, protect and monitor human rights.

It promotes by educating and developing material, such as the social media charter, and protects through litigation. It has offices across all nine provinces that monitor and assess the observance of human rights in the country.

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