Social media, amongst many other technological advances, is a 21st century phenomenon. It has become integral in communicating and connecting people in ways that was before unimaginable.
However, the freedom of access that social media has brought to society has also highlighted the importance of using these platforms responsibly when disseminating information.
In recent months, the Equality Unit has seen an increase in information either posted or shared on social media platforms which directly talks to incidents of unfair discrimination and harassment. In addition, users have been sharing posts which directly discriminate staff and students when complaints have not yet been lodged or investigations into incidents have not been concluded.
“The incidents which come through the doors of the Equality Unit are extremely sensitive and serious, and it's important that we treat every incident with care and confidentiality. We understand how sensitive harassment, discrimination, sexual abuse, and gender-based violence is, and that these issues are very emotive and we know that people want to create awareness when they see or know of wrongdoing taking place," says Jaco Greeff Brink, Head of the Equality Unit.
Students and staff are guided by three policies: the Disciplinary Code for Students, the Policy on Unfair Discrimination and Harassment aimed at staff and students, and the Electronic Communications Policy also aimed at staff and students.
Sharing information on social media that has not been investigated and verified can have serious ramifications both in an SU and criminal context.
If it is found that anyone has posted or disseminated information that is false or unverified on social media, it can lead to serious consequences including criminal prosecution for crimen injuria, which consists of unlawfully and intentionally impairing the dignity or privacy of another person. Another consequence can be action for damages as a result of defamation of character, which means the unlawful and intentional publication of a matter that impairs someone's dignity and reputation. In addition the University may institute disciplinary action against a student in terms of the applicable provisions in the Student Disciplinary Code.
“We understand that people want to expose wrong-doers and make others aware of discrimination and harassment but we ask that the Stellenbosch University community think about why and what they post. We have to take care when making allegations online when the complaint has not been investigated and findings have not been made known to the relevant parties. The personal and professional reputations of the complainant and respondent can be tarnished if we are not careful and if information about an alleged complaint is distributed without the facts verified.
“We urge our SU community to think carefully before distributing information online," added Brink.
*If you have experienced unfair discrimination or harassment, contact the Equality Unit on email@example.com. Follow the Equality Unit on social media at @EqualityUnitSU.