Five things teens should know: how social media impacts your future

“What does a teenager have to know about social media and the law in order to stay out of trouble?”

This question crossed my desk a week ago.

On Monday, I will be lecturing at a high school in Mpumalanga on the topic. I realised that many schools across the country may be in need of a similar presentation, which is why I am making this information tool publicly available via Caxton Local Media’s Clicklaw.

The five things every teenager should know about social media – according to a lawyer:

  1. Nothing is private
  2. Sexting = Child Pornography
  3. The criminal consequences of cyberbullying
  4. Gossip is expensive
  5. Your social media timeline is your testimonial

1. Nothing is private:

Regardless of your privacy settings and the steps social media platforms take to protect your privacy, you should know that privacy is never guaranteed online.

Do you remember what happened to Judge Mabel Jansen? Contents of a private Facebook chat between her and a woman named Gillian Schutte was made public by the latter. In these messages, she made scathing remarks about black people.

Mabel Jansen

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) decided that her comments amounted to impeachable conduct and she was placed on special leave. Jansen has since resigned.

A more recent example is Mike Bolhuis.

Mike Bolhuis.

Allegations surfaced this week according to which Bolhuis made racist statements in a private WhatsApp message to one of his clients. He allegedly wrote: “Firstly, it’s not a ‘she’; it’s a n*gg*r, it’s a pitch-black houtkop” when referring to a black person. Bolhuis has since apologised. This scenario carries a lesson with it – your ‘private’ social media correspondence is not that private.


2. Sexting = Child Pornography

The Sexual Offences Act dictates that any content of a sexual nature depicting a person younger than 18, is child pornography. Minors hence manufacture child pornography featuring themselves. The creation, possession and distribution thereof are serious crimes.


3. The criminal consequences of cyberbullying

In terms of our law, children as young as 10 years old can be prosecuted.

Victims of bullying can approach their nearest magistrate’s court for a protection order against the perpetrator. This can be done in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act.

4. Gossip is expensive

On August 20, 2013, the North Gauteng High Court decided on the defamation case of Isparta v Richter. Isparta took Richter to court based on what the latter had said on Facebook:

 “Aan alle mammas en pappas…wat dink julle van mense wat stief tiener boeties toelaat om klein sus- sies (6) te bad elke aand . net omdat dit di ma se lewe vergerieflik??? – witn P O”

Richter tagged a third person in the post. This third person was only identified by the surname of Oosthuizen. The court granted judgment in favour of the plaintiff against the defendants. They had to pay R40 000 in damages.

From this scenario, it is clear that defamation can have expensive consequences. This should dissuade teenagers (or any other social media users) from gossiping.

5. Your social media timeline is your testimonial

Recruiters and human resource officials tend to check out the social media profiles of applicants before deciding who to invite to interviews.

Ensure that you come across as a professional on your social media profiles.

Source: Capricorn Review