Someone asked me an interesting question the other day: If I complain about someone or a business on Hellopeter.com, won’t I get in trouble for defaming?
The answer to that question is yes and no.
Yes, you may be sued for defamation and be ordered to pay damages if your complaint comes down to unjustified defamation. On the other hand, your complaint could also be fair and justified.
Before we discuss differentiating between justified and unjustified defamation, we need to define the concept.
Defamation is the publication of content that could harm the defamed person’s reputation.
A misconception exists that all defamation is wrong. This is not true. Think about it: If I know that a local butcher has poisoned his meat, and if I say this to people, of course the butcher will have been defamed – in other words, I am spreading word that is bound to dent his reputation.
But is this defamation unfair? Not if it will prevent people from buying and eating poisoned meat.
This example illustrates the idea that not all defamation is unfair or legally reprehensible or punishable.
When will a complaint on Hellopeter, for example, be legally justifiable?
- If it is true information and in the public interest, the defamation will be fair.
- If the complaint contains an honest, malice free opinion, based on true facts that are in the public interest and if a reader can easily differentiate between the writer’s opinion and the facts to which the opinion is related.
But if you take a look at the case of Flocutt versus Eisenberg, where the Bloemfontein High Court ordered Eisenburg to remove an online Hellopeter complaint referring to Flocutt, then you realise that complaining about a business online can have serious legal consequences.
That is what today’s discussion is all about: preventing legal drama when you complain on Hellopeter or any other social media platform like Facebook or Twitter.
Remember this rule of thumb: If what I am about to post defames someone, and if it is not true and in the public interest, or an opinion based on facts in the public interest, it may be too risky to post it at all.
Source: Capricorn Review