The Terror of Facebook

I wonder if any of you saw this article in yesterday’s Telegraph concerning a photograph that appeared on Facebook that depicted a white man holding a rifle, kneeling over the apparently lifeless body of a black child. As may be imagined, the story still has currency in the South African press as investigations continue. Leaving aside the unpleasant nature of the photograph the incident has some ramifications for social networking here and possibly elsewhere around the world.

The individual responsible goes by the nom de guerre, Eugene Terrorblanche, a play on the name of Eugene TerreBlanche, the murdered Afrikaner Nationalist leader. It would appear that the photograph was actually taken in 2007. ‘Eugene’ apparently paid the child to pose for him. The photograph came to the attention of the Knysna Police in 2007. The incident was investigated without further action being taken.

Now, the case having been reopened, there seems to be a difference in emphasis espoused by various interested parties. The police have said that the incident is not so much about race as about potential murder. Others prefer to concentrate on the racial, or rather I should say racist, aspect of the photograph.

The incitement of racial hatred is a crime in this country as indeed it is in most other countries. I imagine that given this country’s history and its current demographics, the laws are possibly more draconian here than they are elsewhere. According to this article, “The authorities have suggested that everyone party to the posting – including those who have seen the picture – could face prosecution and, if convicted, a jail sentence.” As a result of this threat, a number of Eugene’s friends have blocked him. (Of course there is a possibility that until all this publicity, they were unaware of the photograph’s existence and only unfriended/defriended/blocked(?) him as a sign of disgust. But, why spoil a good theory?)

The point is that given stringent hate-speech laws, individuals can, via social networks, be easily and unwittingly, tainted with the crimes of their associates. If one of the Charioteers were to write a post that advocated racial or religious hatred, homophobia, domestic violence, child abuse etc, under South African laws, anybody who read it without reporting it is guilty of a crime in this country.

Speaking of domestic violence, it is taken very seriously in South Africa, with justification. So seriously that the law itself is open to abuse as was made apparent in the most recent issue of Noseweek (South Africa’s Private Eye). A seemingly otherwise innocent man had a restraining order taken out against him by a scorned girlfriend on the basis that he had threatened to delete her from his Facebook account. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there is very little, if any burden of proof required on the part of the woman. If she claims to be afraid that she will be subjected to violence, police and magistrates are empowered to come to her immediate aid by issuing interim protection orders without prior notice to the accused person. In this case the man’s name and reputation have been severely damaged. He lost his job and it cost him a significant amount of time and money to have the order lifted. But the stigma (and record) is there. I cannot show you the actual article, but here is a letter from the Editor.

9 thoughts on “The Terror of Facebook”

  1. Here’s the pic…

    Ja well, my local paper told us that it was ‘posed’ and a couple of years old. I couldn’t care less, people who post this sort of stuff should indeed be prosecuted.

  2. Soutie :

    Talking about domestic violence, have you heard the one about the man who appeared in court yesterday for raping a goat?

    How do they know it was rape, the goat may have enticed the man and wanted it? 😉

  3. I see no problem with prosecuting this idiot, either. Tarring all of his facebook friends with the same brush is, however, stretching things a little, I would have thought?

  4. Ah well, Sipu. It’s all about free speech and the so called right to publish whatever one likes on the Internet.
    There are an awful lot of hate-filled, illiterate people out there, and they have their like-minded followers, unfortunately.

    They say what they like with relative impunity, because they can! It almost becomes normal, and that is truly frightening. They don’t have to prove their case; they can fake photos, and they can say anything they like. It’s allowed and applauded. They don’t have to take any responsibility because they are to all intents and purposes anonymous.

    Now I’m all for free discussion of important issues, but I’m slightly nostalgic for the days when a well penned letter to the Editor of the Times or Telegraph was only published if it was considered to be somewhat superior to the rantings of the insane and the moronic.

  5. First of all the point I was trying to make was not whether or not ‘Eugene’ should be prosecuted, but that Facebook and other social networks make his associates guilty. Were that picture not already all over the South African media it is conceivable that, Soutie would have committed a crime by posting the picture and if I do not remove it and report him for doing so, I could be considered guilty as well.

    So what is Eugene guilty of having done? He paid a black kid to pose for him while an associate took a tasteless photograph. Surely that is not a crime. Nobody was hurt and nobody needed to know about it. But then he showed it to his friends. Well, they were people who knew him so they could have asked him to take it down or they could have blocked him. As long as it remained private or within a contained circle of friends, it was not a problem, that I can see. It is only when somebody chose to publicise it that it can be taken as an incitement for hatred. Every newspaper and website that has shown that picture and the individual who made it public are every bit as guilty as he is. Or not??? None of us were aware of it until the ‘crusading’ media brought it to our attention.

    If they do prosecute him in this country, which I ma sure they will try to do, it does not say a great deal about the impartiality of the law which allows ANC politicians to sing songs in public and on national TV about killing Boers. Of course the ANC says singing such songs is part of their culture. Surely killing blacks is what they believe is the culture of the Boer. I do get so confused sometimes.

    I am not a believer in laws. I am a believer in rules. This photograph is tasteless and insulting. He should be castigated for that and his friends should shun him for his lack of taste. But that is where it should end. If people learned decent manners and civilized behaviour and if the government and elders of society encouraged as much, there would not be such a need for draconian laws which end up polarising people and opinions. Now there will be those who will defend his freedom of speech even though they disapprove of the picture. All over the world, babies are being thrown out with the bathwater in the cause of human rights.

  6. Yes, interesting, Sipu.

    One does wonder why anyone believes anything these days. I don’t, but I admit to being a cynic where the Internet is concerned.

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