Risks of social media reporting

Olivia Smith, an attorney from Michalsons.

An attorney has cautioned residents about the risk of being sued and other legal pitfalls when taking to social media to report crime.

Speaking at the Durbanville Community Police Forum’s meeting at the Durbanville library on Thursday July 14, Olivia Smith of law firm Michalsons spoke about how to use social media effectively and the importance of community groups adopting social media policies and disclaimers.

The speed with which technology has changed how people communicate has created many grey areas and legal loopholes in the social media landscape as law makers battle to keep up. For example, Ms Smith said, posting pictures of “suspicious people” in the neighbourhood could lead to you being sued for defamation.

“When it comes to legislation, it takes very long, as it first has to be drafted, followed by a public participation process and eventually it has to be signed by the president.

“It is thus, often hard for legislation to keep up with the times,” said Ms Smith.

Compounding the problem is the abundance online of hoax information and fake profiles.

“It is very difficult to pinpoint who is behind a profile, as a fake profile can be created so easily,” said Ms Smith. And she demonstrated just how easy it is by showing a fake profile she had created.

Ms Smith urged community forums and neighbourhood watches to adopt social media policies that included disclaimers advising those who post that they do so at their own risk.

“The social media policy would regulate how members and the public should use the forum’s web page,” she said.

Some 20 to 25 people were at the meeting, including representatives from the Durbanville police, City of Cape Town’s Metro police, law enforcement and traffic services.

Durbanville police LieutenantColonel Marius Swanepoel said contact crime was down 29 percent and property-related crime by 31 percent, according to crime statistics for April to June. Fisantekraal and the Durbanville CBD remained problem areas.

“While crime has gone down, internet related fraud remains a big problem as this is very hard to regulate,” he said. “People are drawn in by the posts on sites especially on Gumtree, where they end up giving people money and they don’t receive what they paid for.”

There have been 328 arrests over this period, with drug-related arrests up by 106 percent.

“Most of the drugs were confiscated or recovered in Fisantekraal and Durbanville CBD. In the CBD, we face a big alcohol and drug abuse problem, with about 190 liquor outlets in the area,” Lieutenant Colonel Swanepoel said.

Peter Lourens, the City’s principal inspector of law enforcement, said barking dogs, dumping, informal trading and homeless people were their four main challenges in Durbanville. He urged residents to support the City’s Give Responsibly campaign.

“Residents continue to give to homeless people in the area and therefore they do not want to leave Durbanville. This area is like a gold mine for homeless people.”

Ward 21 councillor Theresa Uys echoed his sentiments. “ We now have a situation where the homeless people are becoming very aggressive in the CBD, as they are used to a certain ‘lifestyle’ which is being sustained by residents.”