Is social media ruining your life?

Defamation social media

What to do if you are trashed on Tiktok

Trashed on Tiktok? Insulted on Instagram? Excoriated on X? Social media platforms allow anyone to publish information with a few taps on a phone screen. While social media has facilitated unfettered freedom of expression, many people have fallen prey to the more nefarious side of these platforms and been the victims of hate speech, bullying, harassment and defamation. With the growth in popularity of social media platforms, there has been an increase in defamation cases. What constitutes defamation and what legislation protects you?

Reputational damage

Defamatory statements on social media can quickly tarnish a reputation, whether personal or professional. Once information is online, it is almost impossible to control the narrative and repair the damage. Social media enables rapid dissemination of information to a vast audience. Individuals may face personal consequences, such as damaged relationships, emotional distress and harm to their personal lives. Cyber bullying, as it is often called, can lead to anxiety and depression, particularly in vulnerable teenagers and young adults.

In a professional context, defamation can lead to job loss, career damage, or difficulties in securing future employment. A business may suffer financial loss as a result of libellous statements made on social media. (Slander is a false spoken statement about someone that damages their reputation; libel is a written statement.) Negative reviews or false information about products or services can lead to a reduction in customer trust and a decline in sales. If false statements gain traction, they may be shared widely, making it difficult to set the record straight. 

AI and deep fakes

The rapid growth and uptake of AI has exacerbated the risk and occurrence of misinformation and, more dangerously, disinformation. Misinformation is incorrect or inaccurate information, i.e., factual errors. It is not necessarily malicious but it is extremely easy to perpetuate in an era where online information is taken at face value by many users and facts are not checked. Disinformation, by contrast, is false information which is deliberately intended to mislead. AI has gifted bad actors with the tools to create “deep fakes” which are credible and convincing to all but the most scrupulous observers.

Consequences for media owners and court action

The owners of social media platforms may face legal and regulatory scrutiny if they host defamatory content. This could result in legal action against the platform or increased pressure for stronger content moderation. The courts have defined defamation as damaging statements made publicly with the intent to harm or damage the good name and reputation of an individual. In the Constitutional Court decision of Le Roux and Others v. Dey 2011, defamation was established by applying a two-pronged test:

  1. Is the meaning of the statement a matter of interpretation? 
  2. Is that meaning defamatory? 

The court ruled that, in this case, the defamatory statements were presumed to be false and to have caused damage to their target. In another recent court case, Hartland v. APC Marketing, the Western Cape High Court considered the defamation of a construction company on social media by a roofing contractor who was removed from a project. The court prohibited the contractor from making further defamatory statements and required him to delete the posts from social media.

Legislation dealing with online defamation

The purpose of the law is to ensure our rights as citizens against abuses by other people and by organisations (and by the government itself). Therefore, legislation is constantly evolving to reflect social and technological advances. Some of our laws are broad enough to cover online activity without amendment. In other cases, specific legislation has been enacted to address the brave new world of technology-related offences. 

The Equality Act 

Section10(2) of the Equality Act allows targeted groups that have been subjected to hate speech to institute civil litigation against the perpetrator. This can include an interdict or order prohibiting the perpetrator from proceeding with the conduct. 

The Cybercrimes Act 

The Cybercrimes Act expressly includes harassment by means of electronic communication such as social media. Chapter 4 describes the authority of police officials and investigators to search, seize or access any resource suspected to have been used for the commission of a cybercrime.

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences And Related Matters) Amendment Act 

Section 16 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act criminalises the intentional distribution of intimate images without consent. While this Act is more focused on privacy concerns, it may have relevance in certain social media defamation cases.

The Constitution

The right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Constitution, is not absolute. Section 16 of the Constitution allows for limitations on free speech to protect the reputation and rights of others. Defamation laws, including those applicable to social media, must strike a balance between these competing rights.

Post responsibly!

While social media allows us to freely voice our beliefs and opinions on a public platform, freedom of expression must be exercised responsibly. Everyone who uses social media is liable for what they post and is therefore capable of committing actionable offences. Think before you post!

Let SD Law help

If you think you have been defamed on social media or are the victim of cyberbullying, we can help. If necessary we can arrange a protection order against your assailant. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or today for more information or to make an appointment. Don’t suffer in silence. 

Further reading:


Previous post:
Next post:

The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

Need legal assistance?

Request a free call back