There are a lot of strange ideas and misconceptions when it comes to defamation and that’s because of the fact that South Africans are very influenced by Hollywood and what is depicted in movies and series. These misconceptions often lead to quite a big reality shock when the time comes. In order to properly understand the term defamation we therefore need to look at both the US and South African legislation:
- In the US defamation is defined as publishing any UNTRUE statements about an individual or a business. That means that if you make a public statement and have the proof to back it up, you’re pretty safe from legal action.
- In SA defamation is defined as publishing ANY defamatory statements about an individual or a business. That means that it doesn’t matter whether you have a mountain of evidence to prove your statement; you can legally be held accountable for your actions.
This brings us to the core of most defamation cases in South Africa; you do not have the right and are not allowed to publish anything that is attacking an individual or business or that can impact an individual or business negatively. There are many examples of cases in South Africa that makes it very clear that defamation on social media is taken very seriously; either by the respondent having to pay a hefty fine (the amount of which can truly ruin someone financially) or, in extreme cases, even result in some jail time.
Yet these kinds of defamatory posts are rife on social media. One can completely understand the frustration and other emotions sometimes when it comes to a personal situation or a bad business experience or scam artists etc., and some groups even add a disclaimer to their group rules and regulations that these kinds of posts are allowed since “we must all watch out for one another”. Although the intentions are pure and it’s a novel idea, that disclaimer means absolutely nothing in the eyes of the law.
So, if you have a problem with a business or a certain individual either try sorting it out between yourselves (away from prying social media eyes) or visit an attorney to see whether there are any legal action you can take in order to resolve your situation, but NEVER publish ANYTHING that can be seen as defamatory – you’re only going to end up in a lot of trouble.