Beware defamatory Oscar tweets

A legal expert has warned users of social network, Twitter that tweets against Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius may potentially lead to a defamation claim down the line.

February 20, 2013 56 Comments
Beware defamatory Oscar tweets
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A legal expert has warned users of social network Twitter that comments against Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius may potentially lead to a defamation claim down the line.

Pistorius is currently in the dock facing charges that he shot and murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on Valentines Day.

The story has captivated people both locally, and internationally, given the athlete’s profile.

His story has also led to thousands of Twitter users to make comments, jokes, and even judgements on his guilt or innocence – before his case was even heard in court earlier this week.

“The Oscar Pistorius case has enthralled South Africans who are torn between supporting their hero and their disappointment at seemingly being let down by a South African icon,” said legal expert and founder of web.tech.law, Paul Jacobson on his website.

Web.tech.law is a specialised Web and digital media legal and compliance services firm.

“While our Bill of rights gives us the right to express our opinions, our rights are not absolute and, in the context of defamation, the defamed person’s right to dignity often holds sway unless there are clear public policy reasons to allow the comments to stand,” Jacobson said.

He pointed out that Pistorius is yet to be found guilty and is therefore, still under law, innocent.

“Drawing conclusions about Pistorius’ guilt and publishing those conclusions online can lead to a defamation claim down the line,” Jacobson said.

“In all likelihood, most of the conjecture about Pistorius’ guilt is defamatory and the question is whether those defamatory statements are justifiable and that remains to be seen.”

“If you are engaged in a debate about the case, it may be prudent for you to be measured in your statements and avoid potentially prejudicial declarations,” the legal expert warned.

In January, The South Gauteng High Court set a new legal precedent after it granted a South African Facebook user an interdict preventing a friend from posting about his personal life on the social network after she defamed him on the site.

More on the law and social media

Legal trouble for social media comments in SA

Tech companies still fail at social media

Facebook and Internet addiction


Gareth is the editor at MyBroadband BusinessTech. Gareth was previously the ICT Editor at BusinessLive/I-Net Bridge. Gareth holds a degree in Journalism from Rhodes University....
Tags: defamation, Facebook, Headline, Oscar Pistorius, Paul Jacobson, Reeva Steenkamp, social media, Twitter, Valentine's Day, web.tech.law

Shutterstock is the image partner of BusinessTech – technology images can be found here

Join the Conversation ( 56 comments)
  • upyourbum

    Innocent of murder maybe .. but that’s yet to be decided by the courts. Innocent of discharging a gun and killing another human being .. nope!

    • Hanna

      People all over called him a murderer. It is even worse on FB! Unfortunately this is the horrible circumstances we LIVE in everyday of our lives in this country where white farmers have been shot and killed through locked doors and windows..

      • http://www.jorencommunications.co.za/ Rendani Nevhulaudzi

        What does white farmers murder has to do with Oscar’s issue?

        • http://www.facebook.com/donovan.maree Donovan Maree

          Rendani, can you honestly say that you feel safe in this country?

          The murders of South Africans has EVERYTHING to do with a case like this, if you live in fear, you’re mind will be against you. Emotions impair judgement. Unfortunately South Africa engulfs us in a constant pressure of fear and anxiety.

          • http://www.jorencommunications.co.za/ Rendani Nevhulaudzi

            Murder are happens in every country, yes South Africa is not safest country given crime challenges we face, but my question was what does white farm killing has anything to do with Oscar’s issue?

          • Richard Bergh

            where is this white farm you talking about?

          • Shamrock

            Let’s also not forget that South Africa’s crime rates aren’t actually as terrible as people make them out to be when you consider that the UK, a place which a lot of South African’s move to to escape crime, has a MUCH higher per-capita crime ratio than here.

            I agree with you though. Murder of white farmers has absolutely nothing to do with this.

        • http://www.facebook.com/nanonyous Theo Lubbe

          What it has to do with his issue is that because of his celebrity status and that this is essentially a ‘high profile case’, a hearing was held the very next morning. In contrast, most farm murders, rapes, murders within closed-gate communities, murders elsewhere, practically go unnoticed. Why should it take massive media attention for progress to be made in the judicial system?

      • Andrei

        And tortured for days. The government does not care about farm murders.

  • http://www.facebook.com/letsholo Ofentse Letsholo

    Oh well a Ghost never killed Reeva but ill shoosh up…

  • John Ryan

    I have never heard such rubbish in my whole life. Oscar is going to try and sue thousands of Twitter users for defamation? It would even weaker than his story of events.

    • willem

      what if…. court finds him not guilty? (I don’t think it will happen , but what if…)

      no more sponsors, no more income… whats left to do? sue thousands of fukcers for damages?

    • qwertydudeza

      Some dude in the UK is and so far got 1000 people to pay up!

      What you say on the net is in Public domain, re the law or watch last Sunday’s Carte Blanche

    • JHBrits

      Do you guys not listen to ANYTHING? Keep doing it, John – one day you’ll be paying for a house for someone like me!

  • dbld

    This whole thing with legal liability for posting on a social media sites is yet another way of big brands stretching their legal muscle on little otherwise voiceless guy. I agree that comments need to be in context of tasteful observation and opinion, but to use law as a scare tactics to keep lid on what people think is, well not good democratic practice at all ……..

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanonyous Theo Lubbe

      You’re not being told not to say what you want, you’re being told to not say what you want if how and where you say it will be a matter of permanent record that can be indexed, searched and found at a later stage.

      If a highly inaccurate remark is made about someone and that remark is popular, it will have prevalence in search results about that person. By having that prevalence, it could give people the wrong information at a later stage and skew their views/opinions regarding someone/something.

      • Freespeech

        Well said, Theo – it just won’t get through to some people until they are sued for defamation. My “freedom of speech” ends where I infringe on YOUR Constitutional rights. It doesn’t matter what you THINK of the law, as long as you abide by it. Oh yes, and remember that fabulous little thing about “ignorance of the law is no excuse”? That holds up in court too.

      • Bubuka

        Don’t spread BS. The ONE official status of Oscar is what judge will say. Everything else is just a rumours and everybody have right on his opinion. If I say “Obama is a bad president”, it’s my point of view and nobody can sue me for that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/nanonyous Theo Lubbe

          If you say “Obama is a bad president because of not-factually-based-reasons-that-are-wholly-false-and-thus-misleading”, and claim he did things he never did do, then you can be sued for defamation. If you believe otherwise, then you are grossly misinformed on South African and/or American defamation/slander/libel legislation.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation

  • Shamrock

    Actually really annoying. They can’t stop anyone from saying anything. If I think Oscar’s a murderer, I can say it. If I say he’s innocent, that’s well within my rights. I’m no legal body. I’m a citizen. I’m not passing divine judgement. I’m merely stating my opinion. And my right to think, speak and write freely is, in my opinion, most important of all.

    • Shamerock

      Apparently you didn’t listen to the lawyer on Carte Blanche or read the above article. Voice your opinions as “fact” and you stand to be sued. I know I’d sue in a heartbeat.

      • ChrisB

        That’s what everyone says, but when it comes down to it they back away because it costs too much. Oscar on the other hand has piles and piles of cash so maybe he won’t.

        But that’s beside the point. People have been voicing their opinions as fact for hundreds of years and getting away with it – as long as you aren’t practising hate speech or causing panic or inciting violence it’s pretty hard to get a defamation ruling. If you do it takes years – decades even – by which time the only defamation taking place is the court case records, everyone would have forgotten the original words. Don’t be a big drama queen.

      • Shamrock

        Guess all I can say is good luck. I can’t understand why anyone would hold this view. God forbid when we actually NEED the right to express ourselves someone with enough money stops us. I don’t mind fighting for that. Should be an easy case, considering that it falls under common law AND constitution.

      • Shamrock

        Also, does this mean that if I say “It is my opinion that Oscar is guilty” it is acceptable?

    • Dougpta

      Until you get sued mate. Seriously.. Think of it this way. If YOU were being tried by the media how would you feel ? Oscar is innocent until a court decides otherwise.

      • http://www.facebook.com/nanonyous Theo Lubbe

        Innocent of charges laid against him, but not of causing the death of another person by his own hands, which he has openly admitted to.

    • rooislangwtf

      You won’t get sued for calling him a murderer, it’s a fact that he murdered his girlfriend, they can’t argue with that. You probably just can’t pass judgement on whether it was pre-med or not.

      • Shamrock

        Agreed.

      • http://www.facebook.com/adie.ryan.71 Adie Ryan

        If he is saying it was an accident then that Is not murder. Murder is when you intentionally cause someone death and yes u could get sued for that. Trial hasn’t happened yet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-De-Fleuriot/611844223 Mike De Fleuriot
    • karambaram

      ^))))))))))))) That’s funny! But less funny than Oscar’s excuses, sorry :))))))

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.gillespie.589 Andrew Gillespie

    Oh please! What are they going to do sue everyone of Twitter and/or Facebook? Get real!

  • Loyd Kambuzuma

    we should always remember the act of defaming can distroy Pistorius reputation as olympic athlete.

    • Kirst

      no he did that himself when he killed somebody and honestly… after the damage he’s done… maybe he should be less obsessed with what we say and more obsessed with what he’s done….

      • Loyd Kambuzuma

        If Oscar plead NOT guilty it generally means that he deny committing the offence but thought was an intruder. At the end if Pistorius is NOT found guilty, I hope he get compensated for oral defamation.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=654794730 Kirsten Anne Foster

          He’s pleading not guilty to murder- but he IS guilty of killing someone- and POSSIBLY TRYING TO MURDER an intruder. No amount of compensation in the world will undo what he did. Grow up man- if I had a buck for every ugly thing a person said about me. My considerations are with Reeva’s family- not the little bruised ego of a possible criminal!

          • Loyd Kambuzuma

            The judge will make a fair and impartial decision in the case against Pistorious

          • http://www.facebook.com/nanonyous Theo Lubbe

            This^ He killed someone. He shot at them when he didn’t need to, based on his testimony.

            He’s directly responsible for the death of another person, and nothing changes that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stolsie Hennie Nel

      I think his rep has suffered as much as it can. But this “act of defaming” as a legal issue, in this regard, is only fair. Should I take back my Nike shoes or sue Oscar to reimburse me for whatever legal precedent I establish doing this. No… Cause/effect is at play here, and the public has it’s own, mean and vindictive voice. A “hero” has a higher responsibility to the public than his right to dignity/privacy/compassion and is held to a higher standard of perfection. That’s just how it is, not my opinion(even though it’s a baseless statement).

      • eedjithunter

        “the public has it’s own, mean and vindictive voice” – Indeed . . . blood-bayers and no better than anyone who does commit murder. And they still want to argue the law? Would love to be around if they get tried by media/social media. What goes around comes around.

    • Dougpta

      Thank-you Loyd.. Sanity prevails

      • Loyd Kambuzuma

        You are welcome! besides Oscar is innocent until proven guilty! IOH…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dylan-Mugabe/716065758 Dylan Mugabe

    If Oscar walks away from this, the best thing for him would be to lay low, go on holiday and move on. The last thing he should worry about is people “defaming” him on the internet.

    • invaliusername

      Didn’t you read the article, no Oscar jokes (“If Oscar walks away from this”) ;)

  • invalidusername

    Good luck with taking action against the tens of thousands of people making these remarks on twitter, especially since twitter doesn’t release personal details without a court order. The justice system in SA can’t cope with seeing half the cases it is supposed to, never mind issuing a million court orders. What a joke

    • eedjithunter

      Twitter doesn’t release personal details? Bwahahahahha. They just got hacked. You’d best hope your personal details weren’t there or on pinterest ro tumblr.

  • Hairbo

    Surely if companies like FNB or Outsurance are able to place retractions after they publish something that offends the public or individual, we are able to do the same? Surely the rules apply across the board? If I am liable for publishing something that offends and could potentially lead to a defamation claim down the line, surely a retraction on my part would do the trick? Am I missing something here? Don’t the same publishing rules apply to the average guy off the street as they do to the big corporate companies?

    • http://www.facebook.com/nanonyous Theo Lubbe

      You would be able to, but a legal case would be taken out against you should you refuse to. If what you said was intentionally expressed with apparent malice though, that’s generally not the case.

  • Serious Sam

    Who cares how is he “innocent”? I have my right to opinion about this ridiculous case. My opinion is his “history” is very close to school boy excuses: instead of saving his GF (when he first time realised there is intruder), first he shoot and only next he tries to talk with GF. So funny excuses I never heard 20 years. Name him “innocent”, but hell, don’t play idiots with us!

    • Dougpta

      Were YOU THERE ?? Rather read Oscars Bail application statement on his website oscarpistorius.com

  • ChrisB

    Here’s my opinion: If you laid all of South Africa’s lawyers end-to-end along the ocean bed, what would you have? – A good start.

    What’s the difference between a dead lawyer in the road and a dead snake in the road? – Skid-marks leading up to the snake.

    “Legal Expert” indeed. Ambulance-chasing expert more like. Don’t forget every lawyer (they call them solicitors in the UK, ’nuff said) in private practice has a vested interest in that opinion.

  • Lance Smit

    No Lance, don’t sue the ridiculous people saying you testing positive, please.

  • rooislangwtf

    So I should just stick to facts about known woman murderer Oscar Pistorius?

  • Meep

    Can’t make money from sponsors…

  • http://www.facebook.com/sello.mohale3 Sello Mohale

    I totally agree with the legal expert! People bash others on social networks as if they are saints n never break the law. If someone is caught speeding people comment immediately as if they never drive over the speed limit! If your sin has not gone public yet you have no right to judge anyone else.

    The Oscar case, like all other cases should be settled by the courts. According to the Law, everything is still allegations until tested in court.
    Truly anybody that labels Oscar as a murderer now could be sued.

  • The Wizard

    Someone hacked my twitter account to say mean things about him .thats a good one

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