Prison time and fines for ‘fake news’ social media posts in South Africa withdrawn

 ·26 Apr 2024

The Film and Publications Board (FPB) has withdrawn a controversial notice gazetted last month, punishing internet users and service providers (ISPs) for hosting or publishing “misinformation” online in South Africa.

The notice, which was issued in terms of section 18H and section 27A of the Films and Publications Act, laid out the punishment for South Africans who publish ‘fake news’ online and made it so that ISPs would also be held liable for hosting such content and failing to take action.

Through the notice, the FPB defined the terms “misinformation” and “disinformation,” declaring them to be propaganda for war, inciting imminent violence or potentially advocating hate speech.

“Disinformation” was defined as information that is false and where the person disseminating it knows it is false.

“Misinformation,” on the other hand, defines false information that the person disseminating believes to be true.

If found guilty of spreading mis- or disinformation, one could receive a R150,000 fine and/or a two-year prison term.

ISPs aware that their services were being used for such content would have had to report it to the FPB within 30 days or face penalties.

The ISP would also have to show what reasonable measures were being taken to prevent the distribution of misinformation and disinformation on its platform.

If ISPs failed to do so, they faced a fine of R750,000 and/or a five-year prison term.

The notice sparked immediate push-back.

Media Monitoring Africa, the South African National Editors Forum, the Campaign for Free Expression, the Press Council of South Africa, and the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition served the FPB with an ultimatum to withdraw the notice or face legal action.

Among their concerns was that the definition of misinformation was overly broad by including people who unknowingly say something false.

They also argued that the FPB has no mandate to regulate misinformation and disinformation, and that the agency was effectively trying to enact new legislation without proper Parliamentary procedure.

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird told 702 Talk Radio that the FPB was trying to create an entirely new class of crime without public consultation.

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