Sex, drugs and social media

In a counterintuitive move I buried my head in the sand this week.

While contemplating whether to return for air, I googled two trending topics while covering my eyes with one hand.

Yep. Still there.

Malusi Gigaba’s video and the writhing, screaming high school boy receiving medical attention.

It is 2018 and this is the Network Society. Multimedia is all the rage, I know.

Does it mean that South Africans must be desensitized, sensation driven and banal? Judging by the way online content is created, shared and liked, web users firmly believe that etiquette, laws and decency do not apply when they are logged on.

Mr Gigaba masturbated, videoed it and sent it to his wife. There is absolutely nothing criminal about that. Yet someone somewhere got hold of the video and shared it to thousands of indiscriminate South Africans who seem to be intrigued by its contents.

I recall the #margaretvanwyk incident. This woman from Schweizer-Reneke intended to send a photo of her genitals to her husband. She sent it to a WhatsApp group from where it was shared thousands of times. This incident made the news. It invaded her privacy in an unjustifiable way.

“WHY?” I ask you. Have we lost our judgement and ability to distinguish between what is news and what is not?

News consists of recent information in the public interest. As a citizen of this democracy, I expect the news to keep me posted on what I am supposed to know in order to function effectively as a member of my community.

I don’t know about you, but in-depth knowledge of someone’s Southern regions has not made me a better or more informed citizen.

Politicians generally live more public lives than the rest of us and their reasonable expectation of privacy is understood to be lower. Does that mean Gigaba’s masturbation should be public knowledge? Absolutely not.

Since when has masturbating rendered any politician less able to do his job?

What is newsworthy and illegal is the communication interception that, according to Gigaba, caused the video to leak. Whoever was responsible for that should pay for his crimes.

Moving along to the video that has been all over my Facebook timeline since yesterday. It features a young high school pupil who is clearly on some kind of drug. He screams while his body squirms. Drool spills from his mouth and the taker of the video zooms in on his legs. “You can see he is cutting himself,” someone remarks.

I do not know the child, but I was initially mad at him for experimenting with this dangerous drug. Sommer out of principal.  Over time, my empathy grew. Teenagers make mistakes, after all. His apparent cutting was nobody’s business, nor was his high.

The video replays in my mind. I’m sure it replays in the minds of many others.

This child’s life will never be the same again.

Facebook users share the footage like there is no tomorrow without considering the ethical and legal implications. One or two tried to justify doing so.

“People need to know what is going on!”

“We need to warn youngsters!”

The line of reasoning does not make sense to me. After reading news reports without the video footage, I am well informed on what transpired. Written updates reveal additional information on the drug and where it can be found. Investigative journalist Riaan van Zyl has discovered how easily accessible the drug is.

If a teenager reads what happened and is not deterred from using drugs, I wonder whether a video will do the job.

If so, at what cost?

At the cost of the young man whose lowest moment has been etched into the archives of the web forever.

How do we justify that? Can we?

Or are we no longer interested in justifying the despicable exploitation of others because anything goes online?

  AUTHOR
Helene Eloff
Legal Adviser & Journalist

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