ISSUES AT STAKE: Google does not forget online blunders

According to a number of locals, they were contacted by the accused after advertising their cars online

THE reckless nature of online interactions and the posting of racist and/or defamatory statements have the power to destroy an individual’s reputation or company brand and place families in real danger.

Yet, an increasing number of South Africans use social media platforms to irrationally vent their anger and sentiments without giving much thought to their actions and consequences.

Our ZO Facebook page and Twitter account is no exception, with hundreds of Zululanders often posting and tweeting racial, discriminatory, slanderous and unfounded comments – with guilty users either being banned or comments removed.

Social media communication is not immune to the law. The right to freedom of expression does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of violence and advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion.

By now, South Africans should have learnt their lesson after the disastrous repercussions of statements made by people such as of Penny Sparrow and Velaphi Khumalo.

But they obviously have not.

The recent fiasco involving insurance company MiWay and a disgruntled client, who took his rage to an unprecedented level online, perfectly illustrates how social media can be used to sow dissent and foment division.

Fake racist email

In this instance, MiWay chose not to press charges against former policy holder Mondli Madlala, after he publicly apologised for the fake racist email he drafted.

Madlala was identified in an independent forensic investigation into the incident.

The company rejected his insurance claim because he had not adhered to policy conditions.

In retaliation, Madlala sent an email that appeared to have been written by a MiWay claims assessor, in which it was allegedly agreed that ‘90% of claims submitted by black policy holders would be rejected’.

The fake email received widespread vitriol on social media, despite the company distancing itself from the purported information.

Madlala was given the option to make a public apology or face legal action.

‘I apologise sincerely for my actions. I acted impulsively and without any thought to how this post would spiral out of control. I learnt how dangerous social media can be, if misused, especially in SA.

‘I also realise that I put the two MiWay employees in danger and I plan to meet with them, to apologise again in person,’ Madlala said.

The affected employees who received hate mail and death threats as a result of Madlala’s actions, said they accepted his apology and would not press charges against him either.

Many might argue that Madlala got off lightly, but some wrongs can never be rectified. He will forever be associated with this incident. He will face the consequences on social media. Google does not forget.

While the company condemned the irrational behaviour, it acknowledged that Madlala was not a ‘social media terrorist, but rather an impulsive young man who made a terrible error in judgment that will haunt him for a long time to come’.

The fact that Madlala was caught out so quickly should serve as a deterrent to those contemplating similar senseless deeds.

Charges of defamation and racism apply to online users too. As with everything in life, think before you type.

Ronelle Ramsamy
Deputy Editor

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