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Legalbrief   |   your legal news hub Saturday 15 December 2018

‘Mass online destruction’ key to criminal cases

How does the media navigate the treacherous waters where fake news abounds and many angry social media users regularly spew defamatory, hateful and often highly obnoxious remarks as if they were the truth and they have the right to do it? In a News24 analysis, George Claasen notes that the Dros rapist case has become a prime example of the challenge to the media's self-regulatory responsibilities, not only to report news accurately and truthfully, but also to minimise harm, and to act independently while staying accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and society at large. ‘News24 has published a video – edited and censored very extensively – of the alleged rapist being accosted in the toilet. Should we have followed social media in publishing the video in full, with all its graphic details? And should we have revealed the suspect's name? In my view, similar to the accused's case and the way the media have been handling it, the award-winning journalist Jon Ronson makes a valid point when he calls this phenomenon of public frenzy “mass online destruction”. In his important and significant analysis of social media, Ronson writes that “with social media we've created a stage for constant artificial high dramas. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain”. Claasen states the amateur ‘journalists’ on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms mostly do not adhere to ethical practices, rules and guidelines, nor, it seems, to following the law. ‘Anything goes, even if it means trampling on the basic rights set in place to protect the innocent as well as the guilty until they have had their day in court.’