The Student Representative Council of the University of Pretoria says the social media regulations implemented by the institution limit the students’ freedom of expression.
“The SRC notes with concern the tone of the university management with regards to its said regulations on social media. Although we recognise the need for responsible interaction and commentary; the current nature of the statement, we believe, creates a sense of victimisation and limitation of speech and engagement amongst students,” the SRC told News24.
“Furthermore, in light of the heavy security presence in the form of bouncers, and in light of the presence of the SAPS, and the general militarisation of our institution, we believe such a statement adds to the paranoia of students and the limitation of their freedom of expression as provided for in the Constitution of South Africa.”
The University of Pretoria on Wednesday warned students that they could be suspended, expelled or criminally charged for liking, retweeting or getting tagged on social media posts that it deemed “hate speech”.
UP spokesperson, Anna-Retha Bouwer, said the statement was to remind students of their responsibilities.
“It is to make students aware that they must be careful of what they post on social media because the university can take action against them,” said Bouwer.
The institution sent the message out to students on the university portal informing them of the decision. It said recent protests at the institution were fuelled by commentary on social media.
“Students and staff should take note that not only posts or retweets bit also likes, tagging and retweets of posts on social media which incite violence, harm or constitute hate speech are in contravention of the university’s disciplinary code: students and South African legislation and constitute grounds for criminal and civil action,” the university said in the message.
“Please note that if you allow your name to be coupled with any ‘likes’, ‘tags’ or ‘retweets’ of this nature, you are equally liable and that disciplinary action and possible suspension or expulsion from the university and/or criminal or civil action may follow.”
The university further advised students not to allow their names to be tagged in posts that contravened the code.
The message also said students were “personally responsible for the use of your name on and social media platform. If your handle or name is attached to certain content, you are responsible for its publication”.
Students at the university had been protesting over its language policy for the past two weeks. Twenty-seven people were arrested for public violence and they appeared in court last week.
Charges against three of them were dropped, leaving 24 students to stand trial. Their case was postponed to April 7.
The university was closed for a week due to the protests.
Last week, UP vice chancellor Professor Cheryl De la Rey told News24 that the university would adopt a zero tolerance approach to violence and crime.
The SRC said it had received a lot of complaints and worries from student bodies regarding the rules and they would be conducting research in order to challenges the decision.
“The SRC is in the process to engage our legal advisors as to what extent such statements are legal, legitimate and binding and how best to #unsilenceUP around such matters of importance. These tactics with the said intention to create a safe environment ironically instils a sense of fear among students and thus not conducive to the moral of an academic institution,” it said.