Over the past few years, freedom of expression activists have voiced their concerns about draft legislation seeking to regulate the online space. One such a bill, the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, was signed off by president Cyril Ramaphosa this week. It is not yet clear when the other, called the Cybercrime Bill, could become law.
Whether the former was promulgated has not yet been confirmed, but the so-called ‘internet censorship bill’ sends a clear message to South Africans who make themselves guilty of distributing child pornography, hate speech and revenge porn.
Revenge porn refers to the intentional leaking of sexual videos and images of another without the latter’s consent. This practice is often employed by malicious exes. In terms of the bill, any person who distributes revenge porn will, upon conviction, be liable for payment of a fine of up to R300 000. They may also go to prison for up to four years.
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Hate speech is the making of a statement that discriminates against a person or group of people based on grounds such as sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, disability or religion. In addition to the statement discriminating, it also incites harm aimed at those targeted. Those who make themselves guilty of distributing hate speech may be fined up to R150 000. They may also end up in prison for no more than two years.
The bill also requires internet service providers to remove content that amounts to child pornography, hate speech, propaganda for war or incitement of imminent violence. This removal must happen as soon as possible after the service provider becomes aware of it.
Another piece of prospective legislation that seeks to regulate the online space is the Cybercrime Bill. It criminalises certain electronic data messages which may take the form of SMS, e-mail or social media correspondence.
Section 14 of the bill will make it a criminal act to incite violence or damage to property in an electronic data message. This includes messages sent via WhatsApp, Facebook, e-mail, SMS or any similar communications platform.
Section 15 will criminalise data messages that threaten others with violence or damage to property against individuals or groups. Groups may be characterised according to factors like race, gender, marital status, gender, ethnic or social orientation and belief.
Section 16 will make it criminally culpable to make an intimate image of someone available in an unlawful and intentional way.