Approximately 10 cases of defamation of character were opened at the Brooklyn SAPS station following the public naming of alleged rapists on social media platforms.
The naming of alleged rapists on Twitter and other social media platforms followed the recent #AmINext protests against gender-based violence (GBV) at the University of Pretoria and its surrounds. According to a statement issued by Brooklyn SAPS, threats were also made against these so-called rapists. “The young men opened cases for defamation of character and are fearing for their safety based on these unfounded allegations. No case dockets were opened against them for the alleged offences”, read the statement. Criminal defamation consists of the unlawful intentional publication of a matter concerning another, which tends to seriously injure his or her good name or reputation.
Social media law specialist, Emma Sadleir explains, “I totally understand victims of sexual offences not wanting to lay criminal charges. In some cases, naming and shaming someone is a far more effective form of retribution. We have a law in South Africa that prohibits the naming of an accused person in a sexual offence before they have been asked to plead.”
“We have a law in South Africa that prohibits the naming of an accused person in a sexual offence before they have been asked to plead.”
Captain Collette Weilbach from the Brooklyn SAPS echoes this fact by saying, “The allegation that someone is a rapist is unquestionably defamatory in law. Posts like these can have serious and lasting consequences. The social media user who initiated the post and those who shared or retweeted it are potentially liable.” If found guilty, offenders can be held liable for all probable consequences of the statement, including those flowing from republication by third parties. Those who repeat it would be liable too. In certain circumstances, a court might grant an order requiring that any existing instances of the defamatory statement, such as on a website, be removed. The order would likely also forbid all future republication. Anyone breaching such a court order is then in contempt of court and could be prosecuted.
Earlier the month Brooklyn SAPS also caution social media users against posting of unverified information. “Unverified posts can cause panic and alarm amongst the public and is regarded as very irresponsible” said Weilbach.