SOWETAN | Social media can bite you
The success of a defamation case against author Jackie Phamotse might be the first to raise the spectre of criminal liability of social media posts but it certainly won’t be the last.
The Randburg magistrate’s court on Tuesday found Phamotse guilty of crimen injuria, criminal defamation and violating a protection order after a five-year legal battle with Basetsana Kumalo and her husband Romeo Kumalo.
In 2018, Phamotse tweeted: “Just overheard a painful conversation, a female TV mogul pleading with one of my girls to not share videos of her drunk and her husband (sic) rimming a celebrity boy!!!!!!!!! What the hell!!!! Kanti, what kind of marriages do we have now!!! I have asked to see this video.”
Although the tweet did not name the couple, some social media users concluded it was about them.
The court found that after the Kumalos were granted a protection order against Phamotse to refrain from making damaging allegations against them, she, however, went on to publish a book with the case number of the protection order on its cover. The book, titled I Tweet What I Like – So Sue Me, also repeated the defamatory allegations on her tweet.
The court found that the state had proved their case on Phamotse’s malice beyond reasonable doubt and that her version that the tweet was part of her research for the book was false. She could not prove that the comments she made were true or that she had real basis to believe that they were to rely on truth as her defence.
Phamotse’s case is a lesson on the traps of social media where there are no rules and malicious statements are peddled without thought of the consequences. The judgment will have far-reaching implications beyond Phamotse and the Kumalos because of the recklessness we witness on social media daily.
Her conviction, while not so surprising, raises the stakes in legal liability that a social media post carries, especially if it is found to have reputational damage.
The message therefore for every social media user must be that when you press post, be sure that the content you share might not come back to haunt you.
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