Defamation continues to rise on social media platforms. Their ease of access, the ever-present audiences, and their use (or misuse) as self-expression forums contribute to their abuse, particularly by younger users, where they are often utilised to cause damaging social consequences. Although the consequences for defamation remain the same, these forums present new challenges when trying to contain a narrative, as the currency is usually perception – not a considered discussion of facts.
Assisting our clients in the management of these social media fallouts often requires a delicate balance between enforcing defamation claims, protection from harassment and practical management.
Our courts regularly deal with abuse on these forums. The Supreme Court of Appeal recently considered the defamatory comments made by the EFF against former finance minister, Trevor Manuel on Twitter.
After a committee chaired by Mr Manuel recommended that Mr Edward Kieswetter be appointed as the new Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service, the EFF took to Twitter to release a lengthy statement alleging, among other things, that such recommendation was corrupt and nepotistic. After Mr Manuel’s demand for the retraction of the statement was rejected, he brought an application against the EFF in the Gauteng High Court.
The High Court held that the statement was defamatory and ordered that it be removed from the EFF and Mr Malema’s Twitter accounts, that a retraction and apology be published, that the EFF be interdicted from publishing any statements alleging that Mr Manuel’s involvement in the selection of the Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service was corrupt or nepotistic and that Mr Manuel be paid damages in the amount of R500 000.00.
The SCA agreed with the High Court that the statement was defamatory and argued that it was neither true, in the public interest and that it did not constitute fair comment. The application for leave to appeal on the merits was accordingly dismissed. The SCA did, however, grant leave to appeal in relation to the damages award and the order for a retraction and apology – arguing that such relief could only be awarded upon the hearing of oral evidence through trial action. Leave to appeal with regard to the compulsory removal of the statement and the interdictory relief was further dismissed.
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About the author
Mikayla joined Dunsters as a candidate attorney in 2020 and is currently in her second year of articles. She is an alumni of Stellenbosch University where she obtained her BA(Law), LLB and LLM degrees. While completing her LLM she obtained practical experience in the legal field and gained valuable insight into the plight of disadvantaged communities by working as a paralegal at the Stellenbosch University Law Clinic.
Mikayla enjoys general civil litigation and has a keen interest in Company and Tax Law. She particularly enjoys drafting civil pleadings as well as tailoring commercial contracts to suit each client’s unique goals.
In her time off, Mikayla enjoys taking long drives and frequenting outdoor markets.