“He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.” (Shakespeare)
As our lives move increasingly online, more and more of us will be subjected to the distress and damage of online attacks. Whether they are aimed at hurting us personally or at harming our businesses, they can take a substantial toll both materially and psychologically.
What can you do if you (or your business) falls victim? The good news is that in appropriate cases our courts will come to your rescue robustly and with speed, as evidenced by a recent High Court decision.
Your legal protections
Before we discuss the facts and outcome of that case, let’s make a general note that as a victim of any defamation you have a choice of legal weapons available to you. A claim for damages can be highly effective but it is, as the Court here put it, a backward-looking remedy essentially suitable for redressing past defamation.
Where on the other hand you are being subjected to, or fear being subjected to, ongoing defamatory attacks, ask your lawyer about applying urgently for an interdict. As in the case we discuss below, it can provide powerful, quick and effective protection.
You could also try laying a criminal charge of crimen injuria (criminal impairment of another’s dignity) but perhaps don’t hold your breath on that one.
A property developer’s reputation vindicated, and an extortion attempt punished
- A company undertaking a large property development employed a roofing contractor which, after a fall out, started publishing defamatory statements about the developer on a local WhatsApp group and Facebook.
- Amongst other things the posts accused the developer of acting unlawfully for financial gain, creating a potentially life-threatening situation, dishonesty, not carrying out necessary remedial actions, defrauding the Municipality, exploiting elderly clients, selling uninspected and potentially dangerous homes, not following proper safety standards – the list goes on.
- The Court found no truth at all in any of these allegations and rejected for lack of proof the roofing contractor’s defence of “truth and the public benefit”.
- Particularly damningly perhaps, it held that the contractor had tried to extort payment of its outstanding invoices in return for its silence.
- The Court accordingly interdicted the contractor from continuing with the defamatory posts (online or otherwise), directed it to publish a copy of the court order on the online channels in question, and ordered it to pay legal costs on the punitive attorney and client scale.
The end result, which is a vindication of the developer’s position and an expensive lesson in the law for the roofing contractor, will give much heart to other victims of this sort of harassment.
Bottom line for victims – don’t take social media defamation lying down!
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.