Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. has become one of the most popular platforms of communication where users update a status, post a comment, like and share personal details of their private lives and the lives of other people. These platforms however carry with it the potential to do serious harm and damage to others.
If a comment, tweet or blog is posted and it falsely injures the name and reputation of another person, it’s considered defamatory and you can be sued for it. The South African laws recognise defamation and define it as a statement that has the effect of injuring a plaintiff's reputation. A plaintiff's reputation is injured if the statement tends to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society. This statement does not have to be true to be considered as defamation.
Not only the person who post the comment can get sued but also people who share, comment or like these posts.
In a recent case of Isparta v Richter and Another 2013 (6) SA 529 (GNP), the first defendant made various posts on his Facebook wall concerning his ex-wife. The second defendant (the first defendant's wife at the time) was tagged in the first defendant's posts but did not post any comments to these posts. Two of the first defendant's posts suggested that the plaintiff was a bad mother and permitted an inappropriate relationship between her step-son and daughter. The court found these posts defamatory, and awarded damages of R40,000 to the plaintiff, payable by both defendants jointly and severally.
Although litigation involving social media is still very new in South Africa our courts are recognizing the fact that social media platforms has become the most popular way of communication and therefore they will become more strict when giving judgments.
It would be wise to think before you post, share or like a status on any social media platform that concern the lives of other people.
Isparta v Richter and Another 2013 (6) SA 529 (GNP),.