Earlier this year we discussed social media “trolls” who are social media users who specifically try to get an emotional response by posting mean comments about others. In Australia a social media spat broke out between two “Tinder” users which ended up with one in court after he had made extremely derogatory comments about a female user. His statements drew the ire of some 16,000 people who signed an online petition shaming him and calling for the Australian government to take cyber harassment more seriously.
He pleaded guilty to online harassment which is a specific crime in Australia, however the magistrate came to his rescue and did not sentence him to jail time saying that the response of the female’s supporters was a “vast overreaction” and that the comments that he had received in response to his horrible posts had “caused him a great deal of pain which he did not deserve”. The magistrate also likened the social media space to a football match and said “If you’re on the football field you consent to a few bumps. You don’t consent to being king hit with savage right hook that knocks you out for ten minutes.”
In South Africa there is no specific legislation that criminalises online harassment although victims can approach the Magistrates’ Court for a harassment order. That order will not result in jail time for a perpetrator unless it is breached. Other options like a charge of crimen injuria could be explored. There have been increased calls for legislation dealing with these types of issues however nothing has been passed at this stage. It is probably just a matter of time before steps are taken to tighten up this area of law.