SA man wins landmark Facebook case

2013-02-04 10:00

Pretoria - A Johannesburg man has won a landmark case involving Facebook and an ex-friend who had made slanderous remarks about him on her wall.

Judge Nigel Willis’s judgement last week means that users may in future sue for damages when they are defamed in remarks made on Facebook, reported the Saturday Star.

The people involved in the case were not identified by the newspaper.

The woman had last year written on her wall about the man: “I wonder too what happened to the person who I counted as a best friend for 15 years and how the behaviour is justified.

“Remember I see the broken-hearted faces of your girls every day.

“Should we blame the alcohol, the drugs the church or are they more reasons to not have to take responsibility for the consequences of your own behaviour. But mostly I wonder whether, when you look in the mirror in your drunken testosterone haze, do u still see a man? [sic]”

The man, who is an insurance broker and separated from his wife, asked the court to stop the woman from making the remarks and to make her remove offending posts about him.


The woman against whom the case was made had been such a close friend of the man once that she had been appointed guardian of his three children.

His estranged wife, from whom he was getting divorced, was now living with the ex-friend.

He unfriended the woman on Facebook when his wife left him to go live with her.

The judge said in his judgement that the woman’s post was not in the public interest or benefit.

“She has been unable to justify her posting. The background to the posting, together with the words themselves, indicates that the respondent acted out of malice when she posted the offending comments,” the judge said and added that the man had a right to privacy and that his reputation must be protected.

Judge Willis also said that common law needed to develop to take social media into account.

“ …The law has to take into account changing realities not only technologically but also socially or else it will lose credibility in the eyes of the people. Without credibility, law loses legitimacy.

“If law loses legitimacy, it loses acceptance. If it loses acceptance, it loses obedience. It is imperative that the courts respond appropriately to changing times, acting cautiously and with wisdom.”

  • sarah.bouttell - 2013-02-04 10:08

    We have very little law on social media, but South Africans should wake up fast. It will not be long, before all the trolls on various news forums find themselves in court for blurting out their feelings, rather than hard fact. There is already several examples in the Labour Court of dismissals from companies, where the staff member belongs to an undesirable group, or makes racist or defamatory comment, while "listing" their employer on their page. It has been successfully argued that it brings the company into disrepute. Perhaps, our trolls might think twice after a few examples have been set.

      MagdaKus - 2013-02-04 13:34

      Slander should legally be slander- no matter what method of communication is used.

      dimitar.kostov.1048 - 2013-02-05 13:32

      I guess ill have to take you to court for deleting my comment and taking this dumb story so serio.... Ah i dont care.

      motlalepula.sompane - 2013-02-05 14:19

      i don't see any reference to the person's name in that woman's comments. that would've been my argument and i would've stuck to it. assumptions are the mother of all fu*kups.

      terence.glen - 2013-02-05 15:05

      boss trolls hide company affiliation, and facebook info. Cant stop the trolling. You see us trolling - you hating!

      henry.vanderfartenburp - 2013-02-05 20:47

      Yeah, and all those bogus profiles. Disgraceful.

  • aubrey.kloppers - 2013-02-04 10:50

    About time! Next is Google Blogs!

      terence.glen - 2013-02-05 15:59

      i hope not. doesnt bother me in the least. I dont flame, dont make racist or derogatory comments, just find a conveniently stupid point of view and air it. the best troll does not troll - he invokes the troll in the person who sees him as a troll!

  • jacyjays.letsoalo - 2013-02-04 11:03

    This makes for a better read. Social Networks are not Punching Bags...guess I must be carefull next time

  • koo.doyle - 2013-02-04 11:29

    The problem is, we are living in increasingly censorious times. It’s almost as if taking offence has become a national pastime. Where do you draw the line? Almost everything, never mind just racism, bigotry, criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, can be interpreted as defamatory or insulting. Simply having a point of view contradictory to the norm can be interpreted as insult. I agree that you can’t have people slandering each other all over the net, but where does freedom of speech fit in?

      PeggySven - 2013-02-04 12:26

      @Koo, the moment that racist comments became a crime punishable by a fine and jail time, "Freedom Of Speech" DIED. It joined Common Sense and Accountability as well as Justice on the scrap heap of History. The moment any government censors what a person is allowed to say, even something that may "Hurt" a person, then Freedom of Speech is null and void. As a great man once said " I will die to defend your right to freedom of expression, even if I do not like what you have to say nor agree with it". An old children's rhyme says it all. "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me".

      koo.doyle - 2013-02-04 13:32

      Well said Peggy!

      MagdaKus - 2013-02-04 13:42

      I don't think all other offensive utterings fall under slander (definition below). And not all rudeness is against the law. Although I am not sure what verbal abuse covers... and then the anti-racist laws. slander- a false, malicious statement (spoken or published), especially one which is injurious to a person's reputation; the making of such a statement source

      kayceechick - 2013-02-04 14:35

      What about religion? If my company is primarily Christian, and Im atheist, and I state my opinions as such and it is contradictory to the norm... is that now a crime?

      koo.doyle - 2013-02-04 14:44

      I think the point Peggy is making James, is that one doesn't have to agree, or in fact like, what someone is saying, to defend their right to say it.

      james.wit.92 - 2013-02-04 16:46

      But you cannot defame

      vicki.williams.313 - 2013-02-05 09:10

      Its becoming like america where you can sue somebody for absolutely anything, even $50.00 given as a gift. Its crazy. Our courts are always "full" for big crimes and yet they have time for this crap? The mind boggels.

  • ryan.holland.395454 - 2013-02-04 11:36

    I find this mildly insulting. If such a thing had to happen amongst my group of friends I would hope we would be adult enough to work it out for ourselves without running off to big brother. If i believed everything i saw or read i would be smoking Marlboro right now. How are we ever to achieve a society of critically thinking human beings when it is just assumed that we believe everything we read on a Facebook wall. If her claims are true then it is censorship of the worst kind, and if it is not then she will be damaging her own reputation amongst her friends. I want to live in a society that gives me the opportunity to think for myself but perhaps I'm alone in this. Much easier to have a judge do your thinking for you.

  • brenda.yelvertonburns - 2013-02-04 12:22

    So.... He objects to a post on FB from a family friend and sues her. Upon winning the case, he boasts about it on FB, thereby making the allegations public knowledge to all and sundry. This individual has played more of a role in defaming himself, than the family friend did. One cannot help wondering if the right to privacy was the motivating factor in instituting legal proceedings, or just pure spite coupled with the need for attention.

  • mfundo.makapela - 2013-02-04 13:19

    Those who like bashing others on FB,take note and think again...

  • michael.tetley.35 - 2013-02-04 13:21

    The problem is that certain types of people feel that they can say whatever they like on social media, without consequences. If they said the same things face to face, there would be consequences ( maybe a fat lip or a thick ear ). Why should it be any different just because it's on the net. Same rules of libel and defamation etc. should apply if posts are untrue. People must act responsibly, regardless.

      chris.stuart.332 - 2013-02-04 15:13

      The problem with me is that if I think you are a bastard or what ever, I'll tell it to your face, no problem, so why should social media be different then?

  • ryan.holland.395454 - 2013-02-04 14:56

    Just removed all the negative comments about ANC, Jacob Zuma, Malema etc from my FB wall. I can't prove the bounders are lying, cheating, space cadets and I can't afford to get sued right now. Perhaps I should log off the Internet just in case somebody should misinterpret my irony for slander.

  • chris.stuart.332 - 2013-02-04 15:09

    So WTF, I cant say that Juluis is a @$@#$ or a ^#$#$! or even a ^$%##$? No! what is this world coming too!

      sarah.bouttell - 2013-02-04 15:16

      Of course you can, you just need to qualify your statement with "my opinion" or "without prejudice"... ;-)

      iNJBL - 2013-02-04 21:29

      @sarah so I can sue that person who "in my opinion" is an ass for posting bad status updates on whatsapp about me? "Without prejudice"

  • mohau.chabeli.9 - 2013-02-04 19:31

    A landmark rulin indeed. A stern warnin 2 those who use this platform 2 maliciously attack others. Got 2 think of this.

  • debbie.reid.509 - 2013-02-04 19:52

    aboot time slander is slander no matter where its said

  • AmandaBarratt - 2013-02-04 21:19

    Does this mean if I post about my dissatisfaction over a company's service, after going through the correct channels and getting no joy, I may be liable to some sort of civil suit? sounds a bit outrageous to me; I'd love to know how they quantified the damage to this man in order to come go this decision. He isn't even a corporate entity that would bear damage. He is a person and everyone is entitled to opinions about people, justified or not!

  • donald.hall.1293 - 2013-02-04 22:48

    I would comment on this, but Judge Willis may sue me for defaming him on his decision. Then again, I may also run the risk of defaming the woman who defamed the man that has defamed the justice system with a ridiculous suit. Wars of the heart should never be placed in proper court and Facebook should not have the power it has over puny minds.

      KEN_E - 2013-02-05 01:58

      Just to make your paranoid world absolutely perfect, I intend to sue you for not commenting.. :-)

  • KEN_E - 2013-02-05 02:16

    Can anyone see the writing on the wall here? Seriously... no pun intended! We are living in such an increasingly PC world that you can expect cyber-litigation to grow at the same pace as cyberspace! This 'landmark' ruling breaks the ground for the seeds of every imaginable type of offence to end up in some or other court of law. And cyberspace being the global entity that it it, we can soon expect the Judge Dredds of the internet to make their appearance. What would have happened if the same posting was made by his three deserted daughters? Does this man even have a reputation worth saving? When we misbehave and cause pain and heartache to the ones we are meant to 'love and cherish and care for until death us do part' should we not take our lumps like a man? Apparently not. Apparently it is more important that society should NOT know what a bad person we are than that the truth should be told. And me - well I am an outspoken advocate for the wonderful change that Jesus Christ has made in my life and those of my family. If I could I would tell everyone about the hope, the peace and the joy that He has brought into our lives over the past 38 years. So you can be sure it won't be very long before I have to witness in subdued tones or code-words, or even disappear from public forums altogether, never to be heard of again....

  • precious.yumyum - 2013-02-05 03:48

    It's a good ruling. People mustn't be malicious and cause irreparable harm to others' reputation. Take pesonal fights outside of facebook. We can still fight about politics and religion though.

  • celeste.m.lackay - 2013-02-05 06:43

    The trouble with this is that when we comment on N24 we have the option of posting the comment on our own walls. Only SOME people read/troll/comment on here, but the comment/opinion was here first and THEN seen by my close circle of FB friends.

  • jacquesvdl - 2013-02-05 07:43

    I am personally torn on this one. Agreed that everyone is entitled to an opinion and sharing that opinion, be it political, religious, etc, but the above article deals with the defamation of a person's character, calling him a drunk, addict and (between the lines?) adulterer. I'm sure the portion of "She has been unable to justify her posting ..." was the issue. I also think her comments could negatively affect his business as he is an insurance broker, thus a man "in public eye" so to speak. However comma, I love a good gozz mag as much as the next person, and I am sure a fair bit is based on speculation. So ya, what lane should I choose ...

  • dimitar.kostov.1048 - 2013-02-05 07:52

    Using the words facebook and court of law in the same sentence is ridiculous to say the least. Soon nerds will be taking each other to court for cheating in video games. 10 years ago this would have been a joke. Now people take is seriously. There's more serious issues in this country people. This case is not one of them.

      trudy.riet - 2013-02-05 15:12

      it's such an american thing to do

  • annerie.m.coetzee - 2013-02-05 08:59


  • adrian.hill.750 - 2013-02-05 10:09

    Here is something to think about: "When I walk down a road and a dog barks at me, it says a lot about the dog and nothing about me". What the saying means is that one can measure the character of the person making the defamatory remark far better than the character of the one being defamed. The point is this, why does he care so much about what this lady has to say, if the lady wasn't telling the truth then it wouldn't be an issue simply because he could shrug it off. So, why do we care what people have to say if we know that our noses are clean and our behaviour proves it to be so. for thought...

  • trudy.riet - 2013-02-05 10:37

    well he could just have blocked her or reported her comments

  • kearabetswe.matome - 2013-02-05 10:46

    The problem as the judge alluded to,is that people see social media as a whole different media not subject to the rules of normal social etiquette and restrictions.A litmus test of the harm any posting on social media possibly has is to think about how damaging it would be were it on a newspaper.Would you still want it there and would you be comfortable if the person you posted about were to read that ? Would you feel confident of defending it in court and ? If not keep it to the realms of the braai fire or book clubs.

      adrian.hill.750 - 2013-02-05 11:20

      How can it be damaging if it is untrue? Why does anybody care more about her opinion rather than his character?

  • flynn.govender - 2013-02-05 11:02

    Social networks suppose to be about friendly chats and a little banter. People who don't know how to use these sites must stay away from these sites

  • dannymothilall.danny - 2013-02-05 11:06

    Finally getting to know that why have a public domain website and not express ones feelings/emotions expressions.

  • andretania.swart - 2013-02-05 12:43

    Far too many laws people don't even obey so what the difference, if the people we look up to meaning government break the rules why bother

  • maylani.bezuidenhout - 2013-02-05 14:59

    I think its rather amusing that my posting the comments made by this woman on Facebook and which no doubt will be recognised by everyone who saw her post... the newspapers and websites have contributed to the slander against this chap. I count six news sites including News24 when you search for a phrase. Now the whole world knows his private business lol!

  • seanne.koopman - 2013-02-05 15:07

    It's sad because these were created as tools of social interaction and yet they're being abused.

  • Die.Gemaskerde.Kussing - 2013-02-05 15:44

    Wow, how dull does your life have to be to sue someone over a facebook comment. If it doesn't incite hate and violence, who gives a crap. It's the internet, there is offensive content everywhere. Does this oke even know about the Privacy Settings built into facebook, or that he can in fact Unfriend or even Report the user. Or even better, you can turn off your PC and get a life.

  • Jacques Pierre Breedt - 2013-04-22 14:19

    very happy for this dude, thinking about doing the same!

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