Hate Speech on Social Media Platforms

Aug 3, 2022 | , , , | News

Can you say what you want on social media and there is no recourse against you?

This question was discussed in a recent judgement of
The Chinese Association v Henning [2022] EQ2-2017 (EqC) (copy below), and the short answer is no, you cannot.


After a Carte Blanche insert on animal abuse and the trade in donkey skins, comments were made on social media platforms of the Donkey Sanctuary and the Carte Blanche Facebook page about the Chinese community in South Africa which included “slant eyes freaks”, “they are not human”, “wipe them out”, “they are rot of the earth”, “I think we should start killing their children for cure for the common babalaas” and “the Chinese are despicable savages can’t even call them people”.

This prompted the Chinese Association of Gauteng to approach the Equality Court with an application against 12 of the people who made the online comments.

The central issue was whether the various statements posted by the respondents constitute hate speech and were therefore harmful against the persons of Chinese origin as contemplated in section 10 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2002.

Makume J discussed the comments; the three categories of respondents being the defaulters, the confessors and the opposing respondents; the testimony of Ms Sadlier of The Digital Law and whether she testified as an expert or not; the testimony and cross-examination of Mr Pon, the chairperson of the Association; the right to freedom of expression; the Constitutional Court case of Qwelane v SAHRC; the evaluation of the evidence against each of the respondents; the objective test in section 10 whether the statements could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be harmful or incite harm, promote or propagate hatred; and the effect the words would have on people who heard or read them.

The court found against each of the respondents that their comments constituted hate speech, harassment and unfair discrimination against people of China and was in contravention of the Equality Act. The Court imposed fines, interdicted each respondent to publish the same or similar words in respect of any race in any form or forum; to publish an unconditional apology on the social media platform of the Karoo Donkey Sanctuary, Carte Blanche and the Chinese group.

The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on info@cklaw.co.za or 021 556 9864 to speak to one of our attorneys.

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