The statement explains that “not only ‘posts’ or ‘tweets’, but also ‘likes’, ‘tagging’ and ‘retweets’ of posts on social media, which incite violence, harm or constitute ‘hate speech’ are in contravention of the University’s Disciplinary Code [for] students”.

Students whose names are “coupled with any ‘likes’, ‘tags’, or ‘retweets’ of this nature” may face disciplinary action and may even be suspended or expelled from UP. In addition to this, civil or criminal action against such students may also be instituted.

According to UP spokesperson Anna-Retha Bouwer, the notice serves as a reminder to students of their rights in terms of the UP Constitution for Student Governance, and also the responsibilities attached to these rights. “According to the University of Pretoria Constitution for Student Governance, Section 14, students have the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the student media, freedom of academic expression and scientific research, freedom to receive information from the University and Student governance structures on matters that affect her or his rights, and freedom of clothing and appearance,” said Bouwer.

Bouwer further explained that “the notice sent out is a reminder of these rights and the conditions of these rights, and that [m]any statements on social media during the protest action, but not only limited to the protest action, were in contravention of these conditions.” She said that in some cases, threats of violence to property and to certain individuals were expressed on social media.

Speaking to Perdeby, SRC secretary Thabo Shingange said, “Although we [the SRC] recognise the need for responsible interaction and commentary, the current nature of the statement [notice], we believe, creates a sense of victimisation and limitation of speech and engagement among students.”

Shingange said that the SRC had received many complaints from the student body after the statement was released and that the SRC would therefore be challenging the notice once they have undertaken the necessary research on the matter.

“These tactics, with the [stated] intention to create a safe environment, ironically instil a sense of fear among students, and thus [is] not conducive to the moral of an academic institution,” added Shingange.

UP’s decision to hold students liable for their social media presence has brought to light the possibility of students and staff being suspended or dismissed for apparent social media misconduct.

According to social media experts and attorneys Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer in their book Don’t Film Yourself Having Sex, what you say or do online can have the following consequences:

• It can result in a prison sentence.

• You can be sued.

• You can be fired from your job.

• You can be expelled from your school or university.

• It can do significant damage to the brand and reputation of a company.

• It can do irreparble damage to your personal reputation.

• It can jeopardise your personal safety.

In a 2012 social media seminar by law firm Bowman Gilfillan director Rosalind Davey, she explained that there was “no legislation explicitly dealing with media in South Africa, and employers therefore needed to look to other statutes and the common law to determine social media law”. Davey further pointed to several recent cases in South African law which saw employees being dismissed because of social media misconduct.

Speaking to News24, director of Werksmans Attorneys Bradley Workman Davies explained that employers can dismiss workers for inappropriate, insensitive and racist content posted on social media. “This [is] because companies could face a backlash from customers, prospective customers and other stakeholders because of [that] association … [with the employee],” he explains.

This is not the first university incident relating to social media misconduct. In 2014 two students were expelled from a UP residence after posting pictures of themselves wearing domestic worker’s outfits and their faces smeared with black paint, an incident commonly referred to as “Blackface”. A similar incident followed at the University of Stellenbosch earlier this year when two students were temporarily suspended from their residence.

 

 

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Photo: Shen Scott.