Check facts

2015-08-19 06:00
NANETTE JANSE VAN RENSBURG, associate at Phatshoane Henney attorneys.

NANETTE JANSE VAN RENSBURG, associate at Phatshoane Henney attorneys.

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Question:

MY boyfriend and I recently ended our relationship, whereafter he bad-mouthed me terribly on Facebook. Now all our friends think it was all my fault. Are there any legal steps I can take against him?

Answer:

Despite many of the benefits of social media platforms, these platforms also create opportunity for abuse or misuse and can frequently bring out the worst in people, often without thought to the consequences of their actions.

Many people lose sight of the fact that the moment something is posted on a social media site, it is considered “published” and is therefore subject to the laws applicable to traditional media, such as newspapers, making claims for defamation a very real possibi-lity.

Defamation can be defined as the wrongful, intentional publication of words or behaviour in relation to another person which has the effect of injuring his status, good name or reputation.

Our courts have recently set a new legal precedent after it granted a Facebook user an interdict preventing a friend from posting about his personal life on the platform after she had defamed him thereon.

In another case a woman was awarded R40 000 in damages after claiming that her former husband and his new wife were bad-mouthing her on Facebook.

The judge found that although the former husband was not the author of the postings, he was tagged in and knew about them and allowed his name to be coupled with that of his new wife, thus creating liability jointly with the author of the postings.

As in this case, you could potentially have a claim for defamation against your ex-boyfriend, but should consult an attorney as to the merits of your case.

If he continues with his “bad-mouthing” conduct you could also consider obtaining an interdict against him to stop this conduct. Again the advice of an attorney is imperative in this regard. Also have a look at the terms and conditions of the site he is using to bad-mouth you on – it may be that he is in violation of the site terms and conditions and you could also lodge a complaint with the site administrator and/or have the infringing posts removed.

In short, internet users must generally be aware that their online conduct could give rise to litigious action and that it is advisable that all social media users take note of the following:

) Make sure about your facts before posting anything and ensure that you can back your comments with substantiating evidence and factual information. Nevertheless, making a comment about a friend on a matter that is not in public interest could be defamatory even if it is true.

) Regularly check your social media profiles to ensure that your name is not being linked to defamatory statements of others.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether you would be willing to say something out loud in a room full of people or colleagues. If the answer is no, then you should not consider posting it on social media.) Nanette Janse van Rensburg, Associate, Phatshoane Henney Attorneys

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