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Racist and discriminatory speech on social media has the potential to undermine social relations

Monday, 07 May 2012

The SA Human Rights Commission has observed with concern the abuse of social media to perpetuate racism and discrimination.

The Commission is currently processing several complaints relating to remarks that Ms Jessica Leandra dos Santos posted on Twitter. In addition, the Commission has received complaints relating to racist remarks that have been made by others on Facebook.

In her tweet, Ms dos Santos allegedly described her encounter with an African male at a supermarket by referring to him using the k-word. She also seemed to suggest that African males were responsible for raping young girls. 

Ms dos Santos’ alleged remarks contribute to a disturbing pattern that seems to be taking place in the social media space, and has to be addressed.

Although the Commission has noted Ms dos Santos’ subsequent apology, it is however of the view that her remarks have the potential to undermine social relations and may potentially also violate the provisions of the Constitution and the Equality Act.

The Equality Act seeks to give effect to the letter and spirit of the Constitution by amongst others, providing measures to facilitate the eradication of unfair discrimination, hate speech and harassment.

While the Commission acknowledges the critical role that social media plays as a platform for the advancement and promotion of freedom of expression, it is however concerned about its unintended and intended consequences wherein some people seem to have found the space to express and articulate hurtful and offensive messages. 

It is very clear that despite the laudable transformation agenda of building a society based on the fundamental human rights of equality, freedom and dignity, the constitutionally envisaged non-racist society has not yet been attained.
 
In one of its attempts to build national unity and social cohesion the Commission addressed concerns relating to hate speech by engaging South Africans in a country-wide dialogue. The dialogue served as a platform for people to articulate their feelings, thoughts and ideas on how the country can best address the complex issues relating to freedom of expression and hate speech.
 
The Commission is in the process of assessing all the complaints it has received and will afterwards communicate directly with all the parties.

While the investigation process gets underway, the Commission is urging members of society and other relevant stakeholders to work with it in its educational campaigns to change deeply entrenched social attitudes which result in the persistent acts of racism and discrimination that the country is witnessing. 
 
 
Ends.

For further enquiries: Vincent Moaga on 073 562 9866


 
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