Tweet your­self out of a job

SA’S in­flu­en­tial so­cial me­dia users dis­cuss on­line re­spon­si­bil­ity and whether or not free­dom of speech truly ex­ists in the dig­i­tal age.

Glamour (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Words by YOLISA MJAMBA

real free­dom of speech is an idea, but it’s an idea worth striv­ing for. I al­ways say that you only know you’re free if you can speak your mind; if you can say what you think with­out fear of be­ing cen­sored, im­pris­oned or at­tacked. Free ex­pres­sion also en­tails the right to hear things with­out some­one fil­ter­ing what they think is ap­pro­pri­ate for you to hear, and de­cid­ing like a big brother what you should and shouldn’t be ex­posed to. In SA, we claim to be a free so­ci­ety, and that free ex­pres­sion is en­shrined in our con­sti­tu­tion, be­cause none of the other rights can come into play with­out it.

I think we’re all be­holden to some­one, whether it’s our au­di­ence, clients, fam­ily or friends. But as much as you have the right to say any­thing you like, you also have the right to be stupid. I’ve said many stupid things, but I think that makes me hu­man. Nev­er­the­less, you still have to be very care­ful that you don’t en­gage in hate speech, racism, sex­ism and ho­mo­pho­bia (among oth­ers) be­cause that will get you into se­ri­ous, and some­times le­gal, trouble. Other than that, ev­ery­thing else must be con­sid­ered in the con­text of the plat­form and au­di­ence it was di­rected at. If you’re go­ing to say some­thing con­tentious, you need to be will­ing to bear the con­se­quences – good or bad. When I was fired from Idols SA by M-net in 2016 for my tweet, “Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand free speech at all,” I had to go to court to clear my name and be re­in­stated on the show. The whole thing could have been avoided if they hadn’t over­re­acted to a noise on Twit­ter that was a co­or­di­nated plan by a hand­ful of peo­ple to twist what had been said into some­thing more sin­is­ter.

A witch hunt on so­cial me­dia can also ruin lives. The mob that calls for that kind of ac­tion don’t re­ally care about the re­sult – they just want to feel pow­er­ful. Out­rage and seek­ing at­ten­tion aren’t a good rea­son to get some­one fired from their job for say­ing some­thing stupid on­line, it will only dis­cour­age peo­ple from be­ing hon­est. If there was a due process and an ap­peal to rea­son we might be able to have a more pos­i­tive di­a­logue and change opin­ions for the bet­ter, rather than driv­ing dan­ger­ous ideas un­der­ground. — GARETH CLIFF, en­tre­pre­neur and ra­dio per­son­al­ity

I’m thank­ful that we live in one of the most lib­eral coun­tries on earth at the mo­ment. Go on­line and you’ll see peo­ple dis­cuss and dis­sect ev­ery­thing. If you think about it, we have very few un­touch­able top­ics. And it’s all be­cause we live in one of the most dy­namic democ­ra­cies. In so many coun­tries, peo­ple aren’t free to air their own views.

When we talk about free­dom of speech on­line, I think we need to look at it holis­ti­cally, as some­thing that has as many lib­er­ties as it does lim­its. You have the right to ex­press your po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal views, but even the con­sti­tu­tion recog­nises bound­aries to this free­dom. Peo­ple can’t use their right to free speech to ad­vo­cate hate or vi­o­lence. In the on­line space, when some­one talks about free­dom of speech, they’re mostly re­fer­ring to how we speak to and about each other on­line. That has to in­clude a broader con­ver­sa­tion around defama­tion, li­bel and slan­der. Yes, you can say what you like about any­one and any­thing but, in the le­gal sphere, there are al­ways con­se­quences.

We live in a world de­fined by power re­la­tions. The rich are gen­er­ally more pow­er­ful than the poor. Men are gen­er­ally more pow­er­ful than women. So­cial me­dia al­lows a lev­el­ling of those power re­la­tions to some ex­tent. Look at cases like Roseanne Barr, Penny Spar­row or Vicki Momberg: for years, they could hold and ex­press their racist views with­out con­se­quence. Now, so­cial me­dia has cre­ated a space where peo­ple on the ‘re­ceiv­ing end’ of those views can push back and say, “That’s not ac­cept­able.”

I know many peo­ple crit­i­cise the so-called ‘mob men­tal­ity’, but I see it as a way of hold­ing peo­ple ac­count­able for what they say and do. I’d much rather live in a so­ci­ety where there are cit­i­zens who push back and say racism and/or sex­ism isn’t ac­cept­able here, than live in a so­ci­ety that turns a blind eye to dam­ag­ing words and ac­tions. — JA­NINE JELLARS, founder of TRUE Con­tent Mar­ket­ing

Free­dom of speech is a right that was fought for by many po­lit­i­cal par­ties, civic or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als to en­sure that we’re able to ex­press our­selves. The right to ex­pres­sion is bal­anced with the need for re­spect of other peo­ple, their be­liefs and the re­spon­si­bil­ity to not spread hate speech based on fac­tors in­clud­ing gen­der and race. I don’t write big­oted or racist things on­line, so that’s not re­ally an is­sue for me, but there are times when I don’t feel free to share my thoughts and I cen­sor my­self. I don’t cen­sor be­cause of fear of dis­missal, I do it be­cause I re­alise that my com­ments may be hurt­ful to some­one read­ing them, or I may not have the ap­pro­pri­ate range to dis­cuss an is­sue and it’s bet­ter to let an ex­pert deal with it.

I think it’s fair for peo­ple to be dis­missed on grounds of hate speech made on so­cial me­dia ac­counts. There is no place for big­otry or racism in a coun­try that still has ram­pant in­equal­ity, racism, sex­ism and other forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion. The on­line space is not your mother’s house, be re­spect­ful, be con­sid­er­ate and don’t be racist or ho­mo­pho­bic. — NZINGA QUNTA, news an­chor

The free­dom to free speech is God­given to all with func­tional vo­cal cords. Un­for­tu­nately, vo­cal cords don’t come stan­dard with com­mon sense and a bull­shit fil­ter. A dumb few don’t re­alise that we live in a so­ci­ety of di’ffer­ent cul­tures and creeds. Those peo­ple feel ‘free’ to blurt out their po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect views and don’t re­alise that be­ing po­lit­i­cally cor­rect isn’t about be­ing cow­ardly, nei­ther is it a form of cen­sor­ship of one’s views, but rather a means to liv­ing in a world with di’ffer­ent peo­ple of di’ffer­ent views, na­tion­al­i­ties and be­liefs. No­body wants to be force-fed an­other’s be­liefs, so keep it to your­self. Yes, on my own page, where peo­ple choose to fol­low me, I can and will share my opin­ions. And no, I don’t feel that it’s fair for peo­ple to be dis­missed based on com­ments made on their per­sonal so­cial me­dia ac­counts, be­cause no­body forces you to fol­low and read their thoughts. — TREVOR GUMBI, co­me­dian

We’ve all got the right to free­dom of speech, but to think that’s free of con­se­quences is naïve. In a world where you’re only ever a thought­less tweet away from get­ting fired, it’s im­por­tant to know the law around free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Many as­sume they’re free to trash talk their com­pany or say con­tentious things in ‘pri­vate’, but they’re not. South African labour law’s good-faith prin­ci­ple states em­ployee con­duct should never dam­age the com­pany’s rep­u­ta­tion and, if your state­ment is seen by just one per­son who can link you to your em­ployer, then it’s deemed pub­lic. Thus, writ­ing, “My stupid boss is a poop face,” on your Face­book wall, could see you col­lect­ing UIF. Per­son­ally, as an in­flu­encer who is known for be­ing out­spo­ken, I know all too well that words carry weight, and I’m con­stantly walk­ing a fine line be­tween speak­ing my truth and not turn­ing my life into a flam­ing garbage fire. For me, get­ting it right comes down to as­sess­ing the po­ten­tial cost be­fore I speak. Sure, there are beauty brands that won’t work with me be­cause I’m not afraid to call out pseu­do­science. But, as I value the trust of my read­ers over a life­time sup­ply of badly-for­mu­lated eye cream, it’s a hill I’m happy to die on. Ul­ti­mately, we can all flex what our con­sti­tu­tion calls ‘free­dom of ex­pres­sion’, but we must re­alise cer­tain words come with a price tag that will vary in terms of con­text. Un­em­ployed Una in Boks­burg can get away with spout­ing con­tro­ver­sial opin­ions on hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues. Any­one be­ing paid to be SA’S sweet­heart can­not. — LEIGH VAN DEN BERG, beauty blog­ger

Free­dom of speech ex­ists as an ideal, how­ever, we all know that what we say can greatly im­pact our lives as well as the lives of oth­ers. This can be both good and bad, but I think there is value in be­ing able to ex­press your­self freely, keep­ing in mind that there will be im­pli­ca­tions if you abuse that abil­ity. Free­dom of thought ex­ists but free­dom of speech, es­pe­cially in a so­cial-me­dia driven con­text, def­i­nitely has some form of cen­sor­ship. Lately, I try to think be­fore I tweet, es­pe­cially if it’s in re­sponse to iden­tity pol­i­tics and news. I don’t be­lieve in be­ing afraid to ex­press some­thing you truly feel as long as it’s not ig­no­rant or hate­ful. As a 25-year-old woman of colour in SA, the per­sonal will al­ways be po­lit­i­cal and peo­ple who choose to con­duct busi­ness with me know that I tend to tell it like is – it’s some­thing my par­ents and their par­ents couldn’t do. Rev­o­lu­tions aren’t cre­ated through si­lence. What I won’t do though is ‘bash’ peo­ple or com­pa­nies with­out ac­tual facts, with those sorts of things, one has to be quite ob­jec­tive.

In light of the fact that hate speech ex­ists, I def­i­nitely do think com­ments made on so­cial me­dia are grounds for dis­missal. Adam Catza­ve­los and Penny Spar­row come to mind when I say this. Both Adam and Penny got heav­ily pe­nalised by the pub­lic, the com­pa­nies they work for and mem­bers of the law be­cause of the racist com­ments they made on­line. Views of a racist, ho­mo­pho­bic or sex­ist na­ture aren’t tol­er­ated by law, so ex­press­ing them on a pu­bic do­main like so­cial me­dia is just as bad as say­ing it in an in­ter­view. — PALESA KGASANE, dig­i­tal con­tent cre­ator

I don’t think free­dom of speech is re­ally go­ing to pre­vail. We live in a so­ci­ety where we bully peo­ple on­line to agree with our opin­ions. No one is re­ally open to dis­cuss any­thing if the ma­jor­ity don’t agree with them. Re­cently, a mag­a­zine had Nomzamo Mbatha on the cover stat­ing she was an ac­tivist. It be­came a heated and un­nec­es­sary de­bate. As much as we feel en­ti­tled to our opin­ion, it should ac­tu­ally be just that – our opin­ion. I feel the only time this should be null and void is when it comes to dis­crim­i­na­tion and abuse. Any­thing that un­der­mines us as a so­ci­ety shouldn’t be al­lowed a plat­form to spread.

Whether fair or not, when em­ployed by a com­pany, if you sign a con­tract that states you must rep­re­sent them in a good light, then you should be held li­able for what you say. Imag­ine tweet­ing about be­ing racist and your job re­quires you to be fair in all as­pects, how is it cer­tain that you’re be­ing fair to ev­ery­one? We carry so much hate be­hind the key­board, you’d swear it paid to shove your opin­ion down some­one’s server. — FARAH FOR­TUNE, busi­ness­woman

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