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Johannesburg - A Joburg man has successfully interdicted his ex-friend from slandering him on Facebook and has ordered her to remove the posts from her Facebook page’s wall.
Judge Nigel Willis’s judgement in the South Gauteng High Court this week means that Facebook users may be sued for damages as a result of defamatory remarks on Facebook.
On February 27 last year the woman wrote on her wall referring to her ex-friend: “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 brokenhearted 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?”
The man asked the court to interdict the woman and rule that if she posted any more defamatory remarks, tshe be arrested. He also asked that she pay his costs.
The man, an insurance broker, is separated from his wife, and engaged in divorce proceedings. The respondent had been a close friend of the man, in fact they had been friends before he married his wife. We are not naming them because there are divorce proceedings under way.
So close were they that when the man was still married, he and his wife had appointed the respondent as guardian of their three children, aged between 11 and 16.
His estranged wife is now living with his “ex-friend”. She left him to go live with the respondent in January last year.
But the children have been residing with the man for the past few months. The two minor daughters are both “friends” on Facebook with the respondent.
The applicant and the respondent were friends on Facebook but when his wife left him to go and live with the respondent, he “defriended” her.
The man complained that the Facebook posting portrayed him as a father who did not provide financially for his family, who would rather go out drinking than caring for his family and who had a problem with drugs and alcohol.
Judge Willis, in his judgment, said it is common cause that the applicant enjoyed a good party and that he likes his “social intercourse to be lubricated with alcoholic beverages”.
“The applicant is an active social networker in that he has both a Facebook and Twitter account on which he often communicates and therefore shares information.
The respondent has relied on these facts (to justify) the posting in question. The respondent has refused to remove the posting, despite having been requested to do so by the applicant, acting through his attorney.”
He said he was satisfied that the woman’s post about him was neither to the public benefit or in the public interest – even if it is accepted that they are true.
“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,” he said and added that the man had a right to privacy and that his reputation must be protected. He said the man had indeed been defamed.
Judge Willis also said where infringements of privacy take place in the social media that the common law needed to develop.
“ …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.”
He ordered that the woman remove all postings which she has posted on Facebook or any other site in the social media which refer to the man and that she pay his costs in this application.
“Everyone knows that life can be made uncomfortable for those who do not comply with court orders,” Judge Willis said.