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Crossing the line on social media has become a standard across various platforms like Facebook and Twitter. With many people overstepping the line between comment and insult. Yes, we are entitled to our views, unless they negatively impact another’s life. Therefore to assist you in not ending up on the wrong side of a lawsuit due to an outburst on a timeline, we speak with Newcastle based Attorney Zubair Chothia of Chothia Attorneys for some direction.
Begining, he says, “It is common knowledge that one has the right to freedom of expression, however, it is important to remember this right is limited. When an individual oversteps the limitation, it can lead to defamation of a person’s good name and reputation.”
Applying both to personal and business, defamation is defined as the “intentional infringement of another person’s right to his good name.” Therefore, defamation is the wrongful, intentional publication of words or behaviour concerning another person, harming the said person’s good status, name, or reputation.
Chothia affirms, it is important to note if a complaint is of public benefit, is honest, without malice, and factual, not merely a conjecture, then the complaint may be justifiable.
And when discussing people who, through social media, attack businesses online, the attorney states, “Defamation against a business could have huge ramifications for the business, as well as a direct negative impact on the image of the business. Should the harm be irreparable, the business could sue the individual who posted the defamatory complaints for damages.”
Suppose a business or person is successful in proving defamation. In that case, the attorney explains, “the court may order the defendant to pay damages to the plaintiff for impairment to their reputation.”
Additionally, the affected individual may also have a claim for special damages if they can prove that the publication caused them patrimonial loss.
Furthermore, the person found guilty of defamation would be held liable for all foreseeable consequences of their statement, including the flowing of republication by third parties. The attorney adds, “In the civil court, damages payable could potentially include the loss of past and future earnings, as well as actual or probable damage to person or property.”
A civil action for defamation may result in a court order requiring the defamatory statement/s be removed and prohibiting all future republication of these statements; the offender may be ordered to make a public apology, and he or she could be ordered to pay damages (monetary compensation) to the defamed party for the harm caused. Failing to abide by such a court order could result in contempt of court.
As Chothia points out, “You don’t necessarily have to be the person who wrote a potentially abusive post to face repercussions. Just being tagged in a message targeting someone else could still implicate you.”
In Isparta vs Richter and Another 2013, Chothia explains Ritcher posted slanderous posts about his ex-wife on Facebook, tagging his current wife. The judge then awarded Isparta damages of R40 000, which was payable by both Ritcher and his new wife. “The point is, if you are aware of the fact that you are tagged in a potentially defamatory post, and you make no effort to disassociate yourself from it, you could be held equally liable.”
An important social media tip is always to keep track of which posts you are being tagged in to ensure your social media profile is not linked to any defamatory remarks. The attorney highlights; you can also be dismissed for what you post on social media. Numerous companies have zero-tolerance policies regarding racist, sexist and homophobic comments. This is because, whether you are physically in the office or not, you still represent the company you work for.
As Chothia says, “The CCMA has heard many cases of employees posting information that sheds a negative light on their employer’s reputation and consequently being fired, or have posted about a company’s internal affairs and being dismissed.”
With these prized words of wisdom, be sure to think twice before sharing or posting anything potentially defamatory.
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