20/06/2018 05:57 SAST | Updated 20/06/2018 05:57 SAST

Your Tweets Could Land You In Hot Water – Here's Why

Legal expert and partner at Webber Wentzel Dario Milo breaks it down for us.

Social media is supposed to be a fun space for South Africans to share their views, retweet and banter with people they barely know.

In the past year, however, a darker side has begun to emerge — with people, mostly using anonymous troll accounts, hurling accusations at others, often with no solid proof.

Those who have suffered the most under this new trend have begun to seek legal advice to stop the destruction of their reputations.

Partner at Webber Wentzel Dario Milo says even parody accounts could find themselves in the firing line.

"Parody and satire are important to protect in our democracy, and it is part of free speech to protect that, but that is not to say that just because you classified a thing as parody or satire you will get away with it," he said.

There are many legal cases involving social media. There is no doubt there will be increase in jurisprudences around this in the coming years.Dario Milo

He says there is a thin line between making a tasteful joke and defamation.

"Certainly if it is a joke intended in good faith, in good taste and it is something that would not make the public think less of the person concerned ... then there would not be liability," he explained.

Milo believes there will be an upward spiral in the number of cases reporting online defamation in the next few years. The lawyer says recent levels of activity on social media and "the ease with which people say things that are defamatory, racist or hate speech is just staggering."

Even if it is true, doesn't mean you are right for sharing it

Milo explains that even if there is information or video evidence of a public figure in a compromising situation, it does not mean that it can be posted.

He makes an example of late rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen, who had to endure a recording of him snorting a white powder and attempting sex with a stripper being leaked to the media. Milo explains how a person responsible for distributing such a tape can be held accountable.

"The question is, are you entitled to tell the public, because he trades as a man with family values? Yes. Are you entitled to show the public the full video? Probably not."

He continued: "You are probably entitled to show certain stills from the video which are not invasive. Even if there is public interest, it does not mean you can put the entire video online."

"You could be sued for invasion of privacy and defamation."