With the growth of social media in Uganda, a number of incidents involving claims and allegations about others have been posted on various social media platforms.
Just recently, three cases have come to light; one involving a video released on social media claiming another person is engaged in child sacrifice; another involved claims of bribery against a high profile lawyer; another involved claims that a district leader was involved in stealing cows from another person’s farm.
This leaves one question, is it an offence to post something damaging to another person on Social media?
Uganda currently does not have a law governing social media. However, there are a number of laws, both civil and criminal which outlaw such publications or” saying bad things about other people” which turn out to be false.
Doing so could amount to Defamation which could be both a Civil matter (the victim can sue you for monetary damages) or Criminal (you could end up going to prison for it).
WHAT IS DEFAMATION:
Defamation is the communication of a statement that makes a claim stated to be factual, that may give an individual a negative or inferior image. If written down, then it is called Libel, if spoken, then it’s called Slander.
For example, if a newspaper publishes a picture of a married woman allegedly mother to a king’s son, and it turns out that she indeed is not the mother, then this could amount to defamation since this article would affect her perception in the public domain, and her marriage could suffer as a result.
For it to be defamation, then it should be;
a) False Statement
b) Fact i.e the person saying this should say it as if its a fact and not an opinion.
c) Published which in social media could mean posting this online.
d) Damage i.e the statement should have an effect of damaging a person’s reputation among the public.
WHAT PUNISHMENT CAN SUCH A PERSON FACE:
The nature of punishment or penalty will depend on whether the case is Civil or Criminal.
a) Civil Cases- The penalty depends on the nature of damage suffered. It could range from a small fee to billions of shillings.
b) Criminal Case: If a person is found guilty of Criminal Defamation, then such a person could face imprisonment for up to 2 years.
DEFAMATION VS RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH:
Remember, the for there to be Defamation, then the allegation has to fulfill all conditions discussed above. This means if a statement is true or a matter of opinion, then such a statement might not amount to defamation.
For example, if Court convicted a person for stealing shs. 1 bn from a road project, then it might not be defamatory for you to report this on your Social Media.
CHALLENGES FACED IN PROVING SUCH DEFAMATION:
The main challenge faced is for one to prove that indeed the accused person is the one who posted the said material. For example, proving the identity of a person who used a pseudo account might be difficult.
In addition, proving that indeed the accused made the said post is also sometimes challenging.
Be careful what you post on Social Media because if that material turns out to be false, and damaging to the reputation of another person, then you might be held liable.