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By Vukosi Maluleke

Digital Journalist

Careful what you say: Here’s what you need to know about defamation

When it comes to defamation, truthfulness is irrelevant – lawyer.

Social media has gained prominence in recent years, connecting people from different parts of the world, and enabling them to communicate conveniently at their fingertips.

Despite the perks of bringing people under one digital ecosystem, social media has also given rise to “keyboard warriors” and cyberbullies – becoming breeding ground for defamation.

Abrahams & Gross Attorneys Director, Henno Bothma, said one can be held liable for defamatory statements made on social media.

“Our law has even developed to a point where administrators of group chats or social media pages can be held liable for defamatory statements made by other members on the group,” he said.

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What is defamation?

Bothma said defamation is the publication of a statement with the intent to injure the reputation of a person or entity.

“Publication in this sense doesn’t necessarily mean ‘publishing’ the statement in a newspaper or book,” Bothma said.

“And can be as simple as one person making a defamatory remark to another,” he added.

When it comes to defamatory remarks, the lawyer said it did not matter whether a statement was true or not.

“Truthfulness of the statement is irrelevant, and a remark that might be true can still be deemed defamatory,” said Bothma.

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What happens if no names mentioned?

Bothma said anyone who makes defamatory statements can still be held liable even if they did not specifically mention names – “if, from the statement it’s clear who is being referred to”.


“A person alleging defamation can issue summons against the person who made the statement for the recovery of damages suffered,” Bothma said.

The party alleging defamation bears the onus of proof, which means they would have to prove in Court, on a balance of probabilities, that they were indeed defamed.

“In certain circumstances, the Court may even order the person who made the statement to make an apology to the defamed, or for them to remove [the] defamatory posts,” he added.

ALSO READ: In SA, the shield of legal privilege is not an absolute

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