SA law firm takes on Facebook in court battle and wins
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Pretoria - The Middelburg High Court ordered a local businesswoman to remove defamatory Facebook posts and also held the social media giant to account over the posts.
This comes after South African law firm Cawood Attorneys succeeded in forcing social media giant Facebook to take its place in court in a case of social media slander against the firm and one of its directors.
Facebook is one of the largest and most successful corporations in the global economy.
A Middelburg High Court ruling sets vital precedent, drawing the line for social media slander and disrepute, as well as holding the social media platform responsible to uphold the law when it comes to defamatory remarks and hate speech.
The first respondent in the case, Miss N S Mthimunye, posted comments that were rooted in the fact that her company, that was struggling before Covid-19 hit, had applied for business rescue through The Rescue Company. It is worth noting that The Rescue Company is an independent business and separate from Cawood Attorneys.
Mthimunye’s comments were provoked by the decision to discontinue the business rescue. The decision to liquidate would have caused Mthimunye distress.
Mthimunye posted onto Facebook, with false claims that had stolen COVID-19 funds as well as other damning allegations that had brought the law firm’s honesty and integrity into question.
The post was responded to by the attorney firm (online), requesting that she delete her defamatory remarks.
She responded by identifying the business rescue director by name and claiming, among other severely slanderous remarks, that Cawoods was a “racist firm that takes advantage of a black female in distress.”
Cawoords Attorneys then requested that Facebook remove the comments. Facebook replied that it did not against Community standards therefore the comments will not be removed.
“We reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards. For this reason, we didn’t take the comment down.”
The attorney firm took the social media trio to court, successfully serving papers on Facebook and having the court condone such service, which is when the social media giant woke-up, removing the offending remarks before the case was actually heard in court.
“This case was extremely important to us, as significant allegations against our firm had been made on the social media platform, suggesting that we had engaged in criminal activity, were untrustworthy and, in addition, racist and discriminatory against smaller companies,” said Werner Cawood, the senior partner whose tenacity brought the action and the first respondent and Facebook to account.
“The fact of the matter is that we pride ourselves on being a truly South African law firm and are equally happy to represent small companies as well as large corporations, but in actual fact, the law firm had nothing to do with the complaints laid against it in the first place.”
The court ordered Mthimunye to ‘immediately remove of all false, defamatory, derogatory and/or racist posts/comments made against the First and Second Applicants and to refrain from further [posts] on any platform’, as well as ordering her to pay all costs.
The court also confirmed that an order for costs could be sought against the Second Respondent (Facebook Incorporated) in the event of opposition and the same would apply to Facebook South Africa.
Neither Cawood Attorneys nor the second applicant, requested compensation from any of the respondents, save for costs, which were awarded for payment by the first respondent.