Article by: Durban/Umhlanga attorney:Fawzia Khan
Can you vent on social media when the debtor fails you?
A businesswoman “the applicant” an events organizer, brought an interdict application in the Durban High Court in which she asked to court to prevent a woman “the respondent” from making defamatory statements about her. This was after the respondent posted a warning on Facebook that business owners and job seekers not do business with the applicant and saying that the applicant “has screwed hundred of people out of thousands of rand” and that she (the respondent) has still not been paid for the services rendered.
The applicant also claimed in her papers that the respondent was responsible for circulating an anonymous defamatory ‘warning email’, which circulated amongst traders, sponsors and the community at large, including that she is an expert in fraud. The respondent admitted that she posted the statements on Facebook, but denied that she was the author of the anonymous email. A letter from the applicant’s attorneys requesting the respondent not post such statements was ignored leading to the matter going to court. The High Court found the words used on Facebook were defamatory of the applicant. The court found no proof that the respondent was the author of the anonymous warning email and dismissed that part of the interdict. However with regard to the Facebook posting, the judge said, “people need to be aware that the publication of a defamatory statement concerning another person on social media is not excused by the fact that the statement is true.
The court also said that even if something is true, it must also be in the public interest. The court cautioned that this is not the same as being interesting to the public. The court held that “It’s one thing to say that someone has not paid her creditors – it is an entirely different thing to say that someone has cheated or swindled ‘hundred’ of people out of thousands of Rands and cannot be trusted to do business with. The court found there to be “no justification for publishing these statements and ordered the respondent to be interdicted and restrained from unlawfully interfering with the applicant’s business and unlawfully casting aspersions on the applicant’s character, personality and business reputation.
It’s therefore crucial that as tempting as it may be to vent your frustration on any social media platforms, if someone has not paid you money which you are entitled to receive, that you don’t cross the boundary into making defamatory statements about the debtor.
More resources on social media and Facebook Defamation
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