The legal position of a person’s social media and digital footprint in the public domain.

The legal position of social media and digital footprint of a person in the public domain

The most dramatic development on the internet and specifically on social media took place in the last 20 years. These developments became unfathomably important in both our professional and personal lives, with certain aspects of the development being either beneficial or risky, but always relevant.

Each and every time you open your internet browser, social media or even download a new app, you leave behind a digital footprint. This digital footprint does have a direct impact on your legal position, as the internet is global, but privacy laws are not. A digital footprint could be defined as ‘the records and traces we leave behind as we use the internet.’ This digital footprint may have a direct influence on a person’s reputation and even credit rating without a person realising it.

Any post, comment, or share on social media become immediately part of your digital footprint. Derogatory, defamatory, racial and other unappropriated statements may have consequences. People tend to post comments in the heat of the moment, without considering this action as they believe in the fake sense of familiarity and camaraderie social media creates. This is unfortunately not the case and every post, comment and share could have a severe negative impact on a person’s life if it tends to be unlawful.

With the development of social media, it was necessary to expand the law in such a sense that it could provide some assistance to a victim of defamatory posts. In this modern day and age, it is essentially much easier to prove these allegations of defamation as everything posted on social media or the internet become part of our digital footprint, even if you immediately delete it after the initial post. In the past few years there were various South-African cases where persons made defamatory statements that could even be deemed as racist. They deleted these posts after realising what they have done, unfortunately, after the post or like buttons were clicked, that post went into the digital space and it is close to impossible to ever delete this digital footprint that had been created. By making yourself guilty of this offence and proposing a statement of being true, without it actually being true, this could lead to major legal implications for oneself.

Always remember to separate your own opinion from a statement, verify the facts AND THINK BEFORE YOU POST. This is the only way to defend yourself from charges based on defamation on social media.

For more information, kindly contact our professionals at

Article written by Basson Piek



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