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Legislating against social media racism

  • Jeff
There are various important pieces of legislation in South Africa aimed at preventing incitement to hatred on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or other such grounds.
by JEFF KATZ | May 04, 2016

One of these is the Film and Publications Act (FPA) of 1996, a substantial section of which deals with cases where the content of a particular film or publication is deemed to be unacceptable. In terms of this Act, one of the grounds on which a publication/film may be classified as a “refused classification” is if it contains “the advocacy of hatred based on any identifiable group characteristic and that constitutes incitement to cause harm”.

A lot has changed in the 20 years since the passing of the original Act. Primarily, we have seen what has been nothing short of a revolution in human communications through the advent of the Internet, a phenomenon still very much in its infancy back in 1996.

Initially, the Internet was used for disseminating information and opinions via individual websites, which anyone prepared to make the effort could simply set up and which accordingly mushroomed at a phenomenal rate.

What really transformed the communication field, however, was the massive explosion of the social media through the introduction of Facebook, Twitter and other similar platforms.

It is through these platforms that the greater proportion of racist and bigoted sentiments is propagated and disseminated today. In recognition of these new realities, a Bill to amend the FPA has been promulgated and an invitation issued to civil society and the public at large, to comment on it.

The Board, as it has done on various occasions in the past regarding legislation of this nature, last week made a detailed submission to the Portfolio Committee on Communications. Among other things, we emphasised the need for proper procedures to be in place to ensure that cases of hate speech, whether via the Internet or any other medium, can be effectively followed through by the relevant regulatory bodies and/or law enforcement agencies.

We will also make oral submissions at the public hearings in Parliament when they are called for.   

The consistent stance of the Board has been one of zero tolerance of anti-Semitism or racism in any form. While we fully recognise and support the right to freedom of expression, we insist that this right does not and cannot ever extend to propagating hate speech, in particular when such speech has the potential to incite violence.

Much of our work therefore involves confronting anti-Semitism in the social media, some of it emanating from individuals holding high political office.

Interestingly, the Labour Party in the UK is currently wrestling with the same problem of anti-Semitic comments posted by some of its own members in recent months. We see from this how social media abuse is a modern manifestation of an old phenomenon that even the most advanced democracies are now having to deal with.


Exams alert (2)


The Board is engaging with the relevant universities to address cases of exams being set on Yomtov or Shabbat. Once again, I urge students to check their exam timetables and in the event of there being clashes, to immediately send the relevant details (full names, date and time of exam and student number) through to us at [email protected].

We will do everything we can to assist our students, but it becomes extremely difficult to do so if we are not informed timeously. 




  1. 2 nat cheiman 04 May
    Ntokozo Qwabe, the pseudo intellectual from Oxford University in concert with Malema, Maxwele Chumani and other black racists have not been punished by the Equality Court for their racist rants. Peter Mokaba of "shoot the boer" fame and jacob zuma who sings"bring me my machine gun"are all racists.
    How on earth are whites expected to react? 
    Poor Penny Sparrow is hounded by ANC lawyers to answer claims in the Equality Court when all of the abovementioned are rabid racists and utter the most disgusting tirades against white people.
    Racism is WRONG!!!! But people in glass houses should not throw stones. In fact the ANC should clean up their act first and then others will follow.
  2. 1 Gary 11 May

    Exactly Nat
    And what about Maureen Jansen of Port Elizabeth saying all Israelis and all Jews who support Israel must be exterminated and the vile anti-Jewish rants of Derick Z Venter of Skinny Pasta fame who both got off scott free
    If the legislation is  going to be applied selectively and prejudicial then we must resist it!


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