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31 Mar 2020

South Africa: beware of what you post online about COVID-19

The regulations issued by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, on Wednesday, 18 March 2020, make it an offence for people to publish fake news or disinformation about the coronavirus (COVID-19) online.

The regulations state that:

Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about —

(a) COVID-19;

(b) COVID-19 infection status of any person; or

(c) any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19,

commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.”

The government is taking this seriously, and the Minister of Home Affairs indicated that he intends laying a charge against people accused of spreading fake news about COVID-19 in South Africa with three people already being identified in relation to the offence.

It is important to note that in order for a person to be guilty of the offence, they must have intention to deceive. Intention in law can mean dolus directus (direct intention), dolus indirectus (indirect intention), or dolus eventualis (which means that a person foresaw the possibility that the false information published may deceive another person but continued regardless). This means that even if you didn’t create the post, you may be liable for the offence if you continued to spread the misinformation such as reposting it or sharing/forwarding it online or via social media.

Therefore, take caution when spreading information about COVID-19 by following these tips:

  • always verify the source of the information. Regulations and guidelines regarding COVID-19 that have been circulated recently may not be from the territory that you are situated in and may be from other countries; and
  • check reputable information sources such government websites if you are looking for information.

Under the Electronic Communications, Postal and Broadcasting Directions No. 43164 issued by Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, telecommunication service providers are required to remove fake news related to COVID-19 from their platforms immediately after being identified as such. Telecommunication service providers include internet service providers, over the top providers and electronic communication services licensees.

Keep in mind that fake news can spread faster than the virus!

Reviewed by Ridwaan Boda, head of ENSafrica’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications department.

Rakhee Dullabh

Corporate Commercial | Senior Associate

+27 82 509 6565

Lucinda Botes

Corporate Commercial | Candidate Attorney

+27 79 699 0344

COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020. The disease has since been reported in over 190 countries.

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