Hefty fine for Facebook slur

A 40-year-old Pretoria man and his wife have been ordered to pay R40 000 damages after his wife posted defamatory comments about his ex-wife on her Facebook wall.

Acting North Gauteng High Court Judge Jan Hiemstra ordered the couple to pay the amount to his ex-wife, who has a senior position with the South African Revenue Service.

The ex-wife and her former husband were still engaged in acrimonious litigation following their divorce, although both of them have since remarried. She also obtained an interdict against her former husband to stop him from coming within 100 metres of her home.

Her husband’s new wife, 27, posted comments on her Facebook wall in 2012 in which she seemed to ridicule the ex-wife’s alleged interest in their private life and made sarcastic remarks about her and her husband’s “celebrity” status.

She followed this up with a comment in which she implied inappropriate interaction between the ex-wife’s teenaged stepson and her minor daughter. The ex-wife believed jovial domestic photos she had sent to her ex-husband had inspired the comment, although “only a depraved mind can see impropriety therein”.

Judge Hiemstra said the new wife never testified to explain why she had found it necessary to deride her husband’s former wife in a public forum. The ex-wife maintained the comments were disparaging, belittled her and were malicious and aimed at damaging her reputation by implying that she was a bad mother.

She testified that many of the people on her ex-husband and his new wife’s networks knew her and were aware of the issues between them. Judge Hiemstra said it was abundantly clear that the comments were all part of an attack on the ex-wife.

He said the first comment was meddlesome and interfering. The new wife could have addressed her comment to the ex-wife personally if she had an issue, but chose to publish it on Facebook where all of their friends would read it.

He said the second posting was “scandalous in the extreme” as it suggested that the ex-wife encouraged and tolerated sexual deviation, even paedophilia. Some of their friends had “lapped it up with relish and added their own snide comments”, compounding the damage to the ex-wife’s reputation.

The judge said although the woman’s ex-husband hadn’t been the author of the postings, he knew about them, allowed his name to be coupled with that of his wife and was therefore just as liable as she was.

today in print