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Slandering your spouse on Facebook

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Court interdict restraining your former partner from posting any information about you on Facebook or any other social media platform - H v W (12/10142) [2013] ZAGPJHC 1

I am increasingly hearing of situations in divorce matters where one spouse will defame another to make that spouse look bad to the mutual friends in order to gain what they believe to be the upper hand. Can you be sued for this?

Johannesburg Judge Nigel Willis recently in a landmark decision ruled that one lady remove all defamatory comments made on Facebook against her friend’s spouse. The lady in this case had stated

I wonder too what happened to the person who I counted as a best friend for 15 years, and how this 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 you still see a man?

The man’s lawyer had sent a letter asking for these comments to be removed, but she had refused to. This lady was the friend with whom the man’s wife had moved in with after the marriage had irretrievably broken down. The Court eventually ordered the lady to remove all comments made on Facebook, Twitter and all other social media networks.

In divorce matters Facebook and other social media networks come up and can be used as evidence. I had a case recently where a man had posted a picture of him with his girlfriend. We used this in Court to prove that the man was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. Defaming of people in divorces is happening more and more often these days. 

In the case mentioned above the lady who made the remarks had the defence that she didn’t intend to defame him, but merely wanted him to think about his life and the path he had chosen. This defence was not accepted by the Court.

A valid defence for a defamation case in our law is that your comment was “fair” and in the “public interest”. Sometimes if a person is a public figure the court decides that a defamatory remark was necessary and in the public interest.

I personally would never advise somebody to defame his or her spouse on Facebook. People who do this don’t realize that they are not only making themselves look bad, but can in fact be sued for the defamatory remark. If the person suing is successful, a costs order may well be granted in his or her favour as in the above case where the former friend of the man was ordered to pay his legal fees.

Parties in a divorce are very often bitter and emotions run high. One can report a defamatory remark made on Facebook. A message is then sent to the person who made the remark to remove it.

In my opinion one who is being defamed on Facebook can also apply to the lower court in certain instances to get a protection order and in that order ask for the respondent to refrain from making defamatory remarks. This would be a cheaper option to the costly high court route.

In order to succeed with obtaining a protection order you would have to prove the comment made was abusive or else the court may not grant the order.

According to the law anybody who “likes” a defamatory remark on Facebook may also be sued for defamation. So one must be careful before making a comment on Facebook as you may end up being sued for it.

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