A study by World Wide Worx and Fuseware has revealed that Facebook is being used by about 13 million South Africans, which is a quarter of the country’s population.
All these people have the means to write, publish and circulate articles and video recordings faster than newspapers and television stations.
This uptake in social media has however landed many individuals in hot water for posting defamatory content or offending a certain group of people.
This is according to Simon Colman, Head of Commercial Solutions at SHA Specialist Underwriters, who states that nowadays everybody walks around with a publishing house inside their pockets. “Even when simply retweeting something, an individual is making a public statement – similar to publishing it in a magazine or newspaper. Any user of social media should be aware of this danger, and should really think twice before they post anything.
Consider for a moment this example of a company that, as part of its corporate social responsibility initiative, decides to work with homeless people on the streets of Johannesburg. To maximise the message they decide to post photos and commentary about the people they encounter. If this is done without permission from the individuals concerned, they may very well be perceived as invading privacy and possibly causing embarrassment to the very people they were hoping to help, explains Colman.
He states that there are numerous examples where people have found themselves in hot water in social media communities for saying something they believed to be innocent, which was taken up in the wrong way. “Most social media users make statements that are not meant to cause any harm, but that can lead to complete public outrage, which can have devastating consequences for the individual.”
“In light of this, SHA decided to launch a liability product through its broker database, that consumers can purchase to cover the legal fees and damages associated with defending themselves against allegations of privacy invasion or defamation of a third party via social media,” he says.
He states that this product is aimed at individuals and that the social media insurance can only be purchased directly from a broker selling SHA products. “Parents can also obtain this insurance to cover the actions of their children on social media, as children are often not aware of the real impact their digital footprint can have. This product is aptly named the Social media Liability Insurance Policy (SLip uP).”
Colman adds that it is important to note that the policy will not cover the individual should they have published racial slurs on social media. “SHA has specifically excluded defamatory or offensive comments relating to race, culture or religion as the underwriting agency believes that it would be against public policy to defend such behaviour.”
First and foremost, the policy is a legal defence cover, ensuring that the accused party has access to proper legal counsel. Should the policyholder be found guilty of defamation or invading the privacy of a third party on social media, the policy covers the award made by the court. It is also then the responsibility of the individual to remove the offensive content from the internet or platform,” he explains.
“Whilst someone may only have good intentions at heart for a social media post, one often has no control over how it is going to be received by the general public. Once the post taken out of context it can easily be blown out of proportion and have devastating consequences for the social media user. All users should ensure that they double check any content they publish in their personal and professional capacity and the added-benefit of social media insurance can provide consumers with extra piece of mind when engaging on social media.
The road to social media hell is paved with well-intentioned tweets and posts” concludes Colman.