KUSA’S BEST PRACTICE GUIDELINES FOR MEMBERS IN THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Freedom of expression is guaranteed under the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution, but this right does not extend to “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm”. The right to freedom of expression is counter-balanced by an individual’s right to privacy and dignity. The sensible and practical way of looking at this is that harmony will normally prevail for as long as this balance is maintained. Where harmony turns to acrimony is normally when one person’s rights start impacting negatively on the rights of others.
Social Media are useful tools for social networking and information-sharing, but are increasingly also employed for more sinister purposes by those who consider themselves entitled to act disparagingly towards others, or indulge in so-called cyber-bullying. Social Media are, in essence, Internet-based tools that enable the sharing of information, examples of which are social networking platforms (e.g. Facebook), microblogging services (e.g. Twitter), photo- and video-sharing services (e.g Instagram), but also include online discussion forums or any other platforms on which information is shared on the Internet.
Disparaging behaviour on Social Media includes the posting of any material on any Social Media platform which causes the targeted person to feel harmed, insulted, harassed, offended, embarrassed, humiliated or discriminated against. Cyber-bullying is an equally reprehensible indulgence which amounts to the use of Social Media to bully another person by posting messages of an intimidating or threatening nature, especially repeatedly.
KUSA urges its members, in the use of Social Media, to
• act responsibly and advisedly and confine the purpose of posts to social networking and information-sharing;
• be at liberty to make fair comment on any matter, but to do so in a reasoned, civilized and courteous manner;
• avoid using abusive, profane, obscene or sexually-explicit language or material;
• refrain from being derogatory, disrespectful, malicious, vexatious, offensive or misleading or unfair in user-generated content posted;
• desist from posting content which can be construed as hate-speech, or discriminatory with regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion;
• refrain from spreading rumour or gossip, or making unsubstantiated claims.
A few useful considerations
Maintain privacy: Do not post confidential information and desist from discussing a situation involving named or pictured individuals without their permission.
Suitability for publication: If the content of your message is not appropriate for face-to-face conversation, it is probably not suitable for posting on a social networking site.
Think before you post: If you are angry or irritated about a subject or incident, it is always advisable to delay expressing your discontent until you have calmed down and can think rationally. Even if you should later decide to delete a contentious post, you’re likely to find that it had already been copied, or shared.
Be accurate: Any comment posted as fact should be verifiable.
Be aware of liability: Despite the seemingly unregulated nature of Social Media, the law fully applies in the online environment. You are responsible for what you post on your own site and on the sites of others and could be held liable for commentary deemed to be defamatory, obscene, or which infringes copyright. Also be cautious what you share; distributing others’ defamatory content also renders you liable under South African law.
KUSA’s jurisdiction is limited to the enforcement of its own Rules and Regulations applicable to breed registrations and licensed events and it has neither the authority, nor remit, to censor content on the Internet. Offensive material posted on Social Media can be reported to forum administrators who normally act swiftly to take it down. If the offensive content remains, it can lead to civil, or even criminal, prosecution.
The Disciplinary Rules of KUSA make limited provision for disciplinary action to be taken against a KUSA member for defamation, which would include defaming a person or entity on Social Media, in Rule 4.2:
4.2 No complaint may be lodged or entertained -
4.2.1 that is based on private agreements between KUSA members or persons to which KUSA is not a party, or in respect of the sale and purchase of any dog or personal insults, defamation, libel or slander uttered or made outside the precincts of a KUSA-licensed Show or meeting or event;
4.2.2 unless it contains sworn evidence of clear prejudice to KUSA or its officials or judges or members or a Club or a PC or as provided for in Schedule 3 Regulation 37 of the KUSA Constitution or that is prejudicial or injurious to the interests of canine affairs.
1. Kennel Club Issues Advice on Social Media Use, communique issued by The Kennel Club, UK:
2. Policy Concerning the Use of Information Technology and Social Media, DOGS NSW, Australia
3. Social Media Code of Conduct, DOGS Victoria, Australia