These 3 types of Facebook and WhatsApp messages can now land you in jail in South Africa

Facebook and whatsapp

On Tuesday the National Assembly passed the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, which introduces new laws about social media messages with penalties that include up to 3 years in jail.

The Bill is primarily aimed at bringing South Africa in line with other countries’ cyber laws as well as the ever-growing threat of cybercrime.


It introduces three types of messages which can result in a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years, or to both a fine and imprisonment.

  • A message which incites damage to property or violence.
  • A message which threatens persons with damage to property or violence.
  • A message which unlawfully contains an intimate image.

Speaking to the City Press, Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery warned South Africans that saying the wrong thing on social media can land them in jail.

He explained that even retweeting a tweet that contain malicious content could be a criminal offence, even if the Twitter user did not see it as an endorsement.

“When it comes to what you say in cyberspace, be responsible – and, particularly, don’t threaten anyone with physical harm, violence or damage to property,” said Jeffery.

He added that people should refrain from saying things like “We going to burn the MyCiti buses” or “We are going to burn the Jammie Shuttle”.

A description of the three types of messages which can land you in jail are listed below.

A message which incites damage to property or violence

Any person who unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes by means of a computer system, a data message to a person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite:

  • (a) the causing of any damage to property belonging to; or
  • (b) violence against, a person or a group of persons.

It further clarifies that violence means any bodily harm, while damage to property means damage to any corporeal or incorporeal property.

A message which threatens persons with damage to property or violence

As an extension of the above, the Bill also makes it an offense to distribute messages which threatens a group of people with violence, or with damage to their property.

The Bill clarifies that group of persons means characteristics that identify an individual as a member of a group.

These characteristics include without limitation:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital status
  • Ethnic or social origin
  • Colour
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Conscience
  • Belief
  • Culture
  • Language
  • Birth and nationality


A message which unlawfully contains an intimate image

Any person who sends a message containing an intimate image of a person without their consent is guilty of an offense.

The Bill describes an intimate image as both real and simulated messages which show the person as nude or display his or her genital organs or anal region.

This includes instances where the person is identifiable through descriptions in the message or from other information displayed in the data message.

It also notes that the message is an offense if the person is female and her covered genitals or breasts are displayed in a manner that violates or offends her sexual integrity or dignity.



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