Facebook: watch your words


She was such a good friend they made her the godmother of their three kids. But when the marriage of William Hunter* and his wife, Sarah* (both 42), became rocky and Sarah moved in with their mutual friend, angry words were exchanged – on Facebook.

“I wonder what’s happened to the person I counted as a best friend for 15 years?” Natascha Westridge* (43) asked before calling him a drunk, drug abuser and bad father.

Not even a lawyer’s letter would make her retract her harsh comments. But now a court has ordered her to do so.

In a landmark high court ruling in Johannesburg Judge Nigel Willis issued an interdict compelling Natascha to remove all entries about William on Facebook, Twitter and all other social media networks, failing which she can be found in contempt of court. She also has to pay all William’s legal costs.

In countries such as America internet users have been able to get interdicts against slanderers for years but with this ruling legal history has been made in South Africa.

It’s changing the local landscape of Facebook forever. In future users will have to choose their words carefully. You could even end up in jail for 30 days if you submit defamatory entries and refuse to remove them.

YOU’s Pieter van Zyl takes a look at what you may and may not say on Facebook these days and asks legal experts’ advice. Read more in YOU 14 February 2013.

* Not their real names.

Image: IStock

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