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Landmark ruling means South Africans can now sue each other over Facebook posts

A ruling by a South African judge means people in that country can sue for defamation over posts about them on Facebook.

The man sued a woman who he was formerly close to after she wrote slanderous remarks about him on her Facebook timeline.

In her post, the woman wrote:

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 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 u still see a man? [sic]

The court did not name the two participants in the case. A South African newspaper did however reveal that the plaintiff is a lawyer who is separated from his wife. He asked the court to stop the woman making remarks about him and to order her to remove the content from her timeline.

The man’s ex-wife is now living with woman who wrote the post.

The judge ruled that the woman’s post was not in the public interest or benefit:

“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,” the judge said

He added that common law needed to start taking social media into account:

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.

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