By Pinky Khoabane
Albie Sachs, pictures courtesy of Constitutional Hill
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will conduct two days of hearings into racism and social media. The hearings started today. This will probably be one of the most complex and challenging hearings on racism it has had to tackle.
The commission said there had been a spike in racism cases. It said in the 2015/16 financial year, it had received 505 race-related cases.
The panel is made up of a new set of commissioners, not that the old commissioners hadn’t done a good job, said Justice Albie Sachs (one of the new commissioners) but the commission needed renewed vigour and energy to tackle one of our biggest scourges.
The hearing panel is comprised of Chairperson of the SAHRC Bongani Majola, Commissioner Angie Makwetla and former Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs.
Interestingly, the ages of the panel didn’t give one the impression that they had ever been on the social media networks they are about to investigate. Im not certain whether it would be important to have been on these sites to fully understand the power of the anonymity social media gives one and how that power manifests in one’s ability to say anything without accountability. People create fake accounts and hide behind profile pictures of animals and spew the most vile utterances. Others, perhaps even worse, use the profile pictures of well-known people and say anything they like.
Then there are the plain not-so-bright ones like the Democratic Alliance (DA) member and former estate agent, Penny Sparrow, who spewed her bile against Blacks as herself. She’s not alone in that moment of social media madness where people forget that what they say on social media, despite them being in their private homes at the time, is being said to the entire world. And that ability to build social networks, a community and make friends with people you don’t even know – and to whom you are generally not accountable – is what attracts social media users. It’s unlike having a real friend that you must look at the following day after insulting or having insulted their relatives. https://uncensoredopinion.co.za/new-year-tomorrow-dear-white-sa-keep-racist-rants-blacks-will-beaches/
There’s no doubt that social media is one of the most open forms of communication offering participation by everyone with access to the Internet. It therefore encapsulates, like no other, everything that we understand the democratic values of free speech and right to self expression. This is where there are no gatekeepers and the reason why mainstream media is getting so upset with alternative media sites which can literally over night, set up a blog and get onto social media sites Twitter and Facebook, persuade and not only attract readers but build a formidable following.
Social media however also has the power to promote racism and violence.
The challenge for this panel will be how to reconcile the strong democratic power and equality social media offers against its power to promote the hate speech.
The true test for the SAHRC, whose ability to deal with racists I have very little regard http://www.iol.co.za/sundayindependent/why-do-we-not-prosecute-racists-1658400, will have to strike a balance between the fundamental right to self expression and freedom of expression against hate speech. But ultimately they must ask themselves the honest question of why racism in South Africa – be it on social media or anywhere else – is not punishable by law.