The legislation was initially adopted by parliament by the end of 2011 because Mthunzi Mhaga, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said the number of complaints about harassment had increased significantly.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction for protecting vulnerable members of society,” Shihaam Shaikh, intellectual property legal advisor at the University of Cape Town, told eNCA.
The new act seeks to provide people with an inexpensive means to take action against harassment.
If an individual is made the victim of harassment, they should apply for a protection order from a court clerk.
The protection order is then issued to the offender and if the offender ignores the order they will be found guilty and will fined or imprisoned for a period of no more than five years.
“This act is a remedy for people who are made to feel uneasy. It respects people’s right to privacy,” eNCA quoted Mhaga as saying.
Shaikh pointed out what would constitute as harassment on social media.
The cases include threatening SMSs, emails or private messages to an individual on any platform, threatening comments about a person on all social media platforms, emails and other media containing offensive content and sexual advances made to a person on social media.
The new act was also put in place to protect a person from being harassed by someone they do not have a domestic relationship with.
Previously it was required that an individual had to prove they had a domestic relationship with the offender before they can be protected.
Groups on Facebook created to be abusive and offensive towards an individual are also considered harassment.
“I would say harassment is quite common over social media, but most youth don’t see it as that. It’s normally the parents, when they do discover what is happening, that puts the harassment label on it. Some youth see it as embarrassing when it’s reported,” said Shaikh.
Furthermore, the danger of harassment increases when people share their BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) pins or WhatsApp numbers or accept friend requests from strangers.