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New harassment Act to stamp out SA cyberbullies?

tyson's picture

The question is how. How exactly will the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into effect this past weekend, truly enforce the broad changes it champions?

The one glaring difference is that cyberbullies are now within the reach of the law's extending arm. While South Africa's digital media have been used by people across a wide range of generations, the protection of certain rights remained - up until now - a slightly grey area.

Dedicated anti-abuse website cybercrime.org.za defines cyberbullying as "using the internet to harass, intimidate, embarrass or demean others".

Legal boundaries
Among the new legal frameworks set by this new act include opening up harassment definitions to include those which take place on digital platforms and ICTs.

It's no longer purely about harassment in the form of physical interaction. It now also goes beyond verbal interaction as a response to SA's flourishing figures of cell phone users and the growing numbers of internet users.

If you feel you are being harassed, you are now well within your rights to approach the court and apply for a protection order. In a move to protect children from cyberbullies, the new law also stipulates that they do not need parental consent before undertaking on such a step (approaching courts), should they do so.

If the court is satisfied that an incident of harassment is taking place, an interim protection order may be issued as the legal processes begin to take shape.

In an effort to apprehend offenders, electronic service providers can now also be forced to reveal details such as the name, email address or cell phone number to which a certain IP address belongs (if it forms part of an investigation).

Social networks
The new law is a game-changer for the many young people who have either instigated or been plagued by various forms of abuse on social networks.

A 2009 study by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) found that around half of the 1726 survey respondents admitted to being victims of cyberbullying. 

MXit, one of SA's popular social networking platforms, was still the leading communication application last year with Facebook coming in at second place.

While general interaction and communication takes place on these networks, there are also instances where people either embarrass, defame or threaten others and subject the affected parties to great distress.

The Protection from Harassment Act has noble intentions, although is likely to struggle to control or enforce some of its measures of retrieving information from the likes of Facebook, whose servers fall way outside of SA's jurisdiction.