Social media users beware. You may have to pay if your posts are found to be defamatory. The warning came from Justice Frank Seepersad who yesterday ordered a woman who posted defamatory statements on Facebook, to compensate an entire family. She was sued after a series of post appeared on her page in 2016.
In a ruling in the High Court, Seepersad said the words posted by Janelle Burke were “reckless and scandalous.”
He ordered her to pay compensation and the family’s legal bill, which are to be assessed by a Master of the High Court.
With no legislation to govern the use of social media locally, Seepersad’s ruling has created the precedent for other similar cases where slanderous statements are posted on social media accounts as he has developed a three-step test to specifically address the use of social media and its real-world implications.
YOU WILL PAY
FOR YOUR MOUTH
IT WASN’T ME,
Social media accounts must be jealously guarded just like a bank account, Seepersad advised, adding that Burke, in the case, ran with what he (Seepersad) referred to as a “Shaggy defence” of, “It wasn’t me.” Burke claimed she saw messages posted on her Facebook page which she did not post.
She said it could have been put there by anyone who had access to her account. In the lawsuit, the family claimed Burke published libellous statements on Facebook that resulted in them suffering “shame and embarrassment” as the posts may have been seen by thousands.
In her posts, Burke accused the family of engaging in incest. Her posts alleged that the father in the family was a rapist who participated in sexual activities with his stepson and daughter, while a seven-year-old was involved in prostitution at school.
The posts also claimed the mother in the family had sex with other men and women.
The family’s telephone numbers and their photographs were also shared along with the posts.
The family denied any of the other activities ever took place. The family reported the incident to the police and they also filed a private harassment complaint. Burke was represented by Adrian Thompson while attorney Glen Bhagwansingh represented the family.