Social Media platforms assist SAPS in July Unrest investigations, three more to appear in court

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Director of Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) William Bird says Twitter should assist law enforcement agencies in cases in which crimes have been committed.

The social media platform helped the South African Police Services (SAPS) track down July riots instigators.

The Hawks say three alleged instigators who were arrested over the weekend in connection with the public violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July last year will appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

The weekend arrest brings the total number of people apprehended to 25.

William says there are conditions under which Twitter is allowed to assist the police.

“They don’t hand over information about anyone unless it’s coming from and has gone through the right kind of channels, such as from platform to platform, some of them. All of them will require official documents that come from the police themselves and it can’t just be a junior police officer,” says William.

“So, there’s a pretty intense legal process that follows to make sure that they are handing it over to a legitimate authority that is part of a legitimate, legal process and there are legitimate reasons why these people are asking for it,” adds William.

On Friday, 22 suspects appeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on charges of conspiracy and incitement to public violence, as well as incitement to commit arson during the July Unrest in 2021.

The unrest caused tens of billions of rand in damage and more than 350 people were killed.

The violence and looting were sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma for defying a court order to testify at a corruption inquiry and fanned by anger over the poverty and inequality that persist almost three decades after the end of apartheid.

A report into the July Unrest released in February 2022 found that South African Police Services (SAPS) and intelligence agencies failed to anticipate and disrupt days of arson and looting last year.

In response to the unrest, the government deployed soldiers to restore calm, but around R50 billion of damage was caused by one estimate as shops were ransacked and key infrastructure targeted.