While the ‘chain of publication’ sounds like a complex legal term, its something that every South African social media user should be aware of.
This is according to Verlie Oosthuizen, head of social media law at Shepstone Wylie, who says that chain of publication refers to every person who shares, posts, likes or comments favourably on social media.
“This has the effect of endorsing the content and could make you legally liable in the event that the subject of the post decides to take legal action against all of those in the chain of publication,” she said.
“The administrators of Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups have the overriding responsibility to ensure that they are not hosting content that is defamatory or offensive as they have a responsibility to ensure that the content is not given a platform.”
However, they will not be the only person responsible, Oosthuizen warned.
“The person who makes the post will have a large measure of responsibility – however, the administrator of the group will also be liable.”
“The case law in South Africa is clear on the issue and specifies that the author of the post and the administrator of the site bear responsibility. Even persons tagged in posts may be held liable if they do not disavow themselves from the content,” she said.
This means that South Africans need to be very careful about posting or being associated with controversial, defamatory or abusive messages on social media sites – as you could end up in court staring down a very hefty legal bill, she said.