Defamation – Exercise caution with what you post on Facebook and other social media platforms

The District Court of Western Australia ruled in favour of Ms Massy, a woman who had posted a review of an accountant on the UK Immigrants Group Facebook Page.  She called the accountant “unprofessional, rude and obnoxious” as well as a “clown” who “wanted $550…antagonised my boyfriend and hung up on me, interrupting me several times prior. DEFO not worth $550 in my eyes ”

What has been said to be a ‘rarely successful defence’ was proven effective for Ms Massy, who had shown the court that it was her ‘honest opinion’.

Judge Schoombee in ruling on this matter, stated that  “the ordinary reasonable reader would also realise that what one person might regard as ‘overcharging’ might be a reasonable fee to another to whom a meticulous service or a reliable service provider was important” but that “this does not mean that a member of a Facebook page has carte blanche to defame service providers or other persons or that all statements made necessarily qualify as opinions”.

Similar actions are becoming more and more commonplace in South Africa, as social media use has skyrocketed, with users frequently broadcasting their opinions without censorship. Defences such as “fair comment” and “truth and public benefit” could similarly be used to ward off defamation claims, such as in the Australian case, though the most cautious approach may be to share one’s most honest potentially harmful views in private.

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