The University of Pretoria has 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”.
Some students said they angry about the warning, saying they would not be dictated to on how to use their social media profiles.
“They are out of order now. This is nonsense,” said one student who asked not to be named.
“How can we control who tags us on Facebook? What if our accounts get hacked? This is unacceptable, they can’t do that,” said another student.
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.
Criminal and civil action
“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 message said.
“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.