This morning I came across an article on popular website 2OceansVibe.

The article describes a situation where a woman shared a screengrab to Twitter and Instagram. The screengrab was of a Whatsapp message where her partner threatened to physically assault her. Other Twitter users contacted the alleged abuser’s company (Investec) to ask them to address his behavior.

Following from this, other Twitter users looked up his chat history and found older tweets that portray the alleged abuser as someone with a generally violent outlook.

The sharer’s behaviour is not unique, with many women taking to social media to try to find some form of justice where they have been let down by their workplaces, or the justice system, or simply feel that it is time for abusers to get a taste of their own medicine (See examples in India and the UK).

There are a couple of ways to analyse this particular situation.

Firstly, kudos to Investec for immediately responding to the allegation with a suggestion that they will address this even though it was not behavior that was displayed at work. Investec promptly responded that they would like further information and took these matters seriously.

It’s important that companies behave in this fashion, to allow those within their employ to feel safe and supported in reporting abuse if it happens. It’s also really positive to see how many people responded in support of the alleged victim.

Secondly, the sharing of these images in some ways can seem more immediately effective than reporting alleged abuse to the South African Police Services.

Stigma and the acceptance of violence in the home mean that few cases of domestic violence are ever reported at police stations. In ordinary circumstances, a violent man can beat his partner and go to work with none of his colleagues being any the wiser.

In this case the alleged abuser will be noted as such, and this negative publicity could impact his career. It will no longer just be the victim who bears the marks of abuse.

At the same time, this public sharing of an alleged abuser’s imagery can pose risks for both the alleged abuser and the alleged victim of abuse.

Three out of four women have been cyberbullied or abused online according to the United Nations and there is the possibility that the victim could be targeted further for verbal abuse. Whilst for some observers sharing the image may seem brave, for others it opens that person up to retaliation.

Similarly, at this stage the alleged abuser is still ‘alleged’. If the allegations were found to be untrue, for example, these messages could constitute defamation of character and thus introduce the possibility that the victim could be charged.

As more people share the image this becomes a form of mob-justice, happening outside of the law. Abuse should always be reported, but social media might be a risky place to do undertake that reporting.

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