In a judgment handed down on 14 May 2012 in Dutch Reformed
Church Vergesig Johannesburg Congregation v Rayan Sooknunan t/a
Glory Divine World Ministries, the South Gauteng High Court
provided important guidance regarding material published on the
social network Facebook.
The case concerned a property dispute between two churches, the
Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) and Glory Divine World Ministries
(Glory Divine). The dispute arose when the DRC decided to sell the
property which Glory Divine had rented from them for several years.
The DRC rejected an offer to purchase by Glory Divine and sold the
building to an Islamic academy.
Glory Divine decided to lobby against this decision by
contacting the media and by also making use of its Facebook page.
Various members of the public participated by publishing posts and
comments on Glory Divine's Facebook page.
The DRC and one of its ministers (the minister) sought an urgent
interdict to prevent Glory Divine from publishing certain
statements that they alleged were defamatory and incited the public
to harm DRC's minister.
The court found that the Facebook postings did not constitute
incitement to harm the minister, and as result the interdict
application was largely unsuccessful. The court did make other
findings, however, that are of greater interest than the outcome of
the interdict application. These include:
the creator of a Facebook page is capable of regulating access
to the Facebook page and censoring the postings placed on the
individuals who post comments on a Facebook page are largely
anonymous. The effect of this anonymity is that individuals who
post comments on a Facebook page may not be contactable and thus
cannot be interdicted from publishing unlawful material. According
to the court these individuals "are little different from
persons who have attached a scrappy piece of paper to a felt notice
board in a passage with a pin or stub of prestik"; and
the creator of a Facebook page is akin to an individual who
makes a notice board available to the public and therefore has an
obligation to take down unlawful postings "much as a newspaper
takes responsibility for the content of its pages".
The above approach by the court was applied in the context of an
interdict and also did not relate to a media defendant. If a
similar approach is adopted by the courts when dealing with a claim
against a media organisation it could pose serious challenges for
Firstly, a Facebook page is fundamentally different from a
newspaper because there is no editorial control over the content
that is posted by members of the public on a Facebook page. At
best, control can be exercised by the creator of a Facebook page
after a posting is brought to its attention. Consequently, the
comparison between a Facebook page and a newspaper is flawed.
Secondly, the court's observation that the creator of a
Facebook page can control the content on the page may make sense in
the context of an individual's Facebook page. However, in the
context of a media organisation the application of this principle
would be highly problematic as it implies that media organisations
have an obligation to check the postings placed on their Facebook
pages for defamatory or otherwise unlawful content and to remove
Thirdly, the court's tacit assumption that liability is best
placed with the creator of the Facebook page instead of the person
who posts a comment because such individuals are largely anonymous
is not entirely free from criticism. Many Facebook subscribers use
their real identity and there are legal avenues available to
identify anonymous individuals.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
There has been much discussion in the media regarding the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), triggered by the recently announced Federal Law No. (12) of 2016 (the Amendment), which amends Federal Decree-Law No. (5) of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes (the Law).
Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Zynga, Airbnb, Uber etc etc. These are all companies that have come from nowhere and are now market leaders in an increasingly mobile and digital world.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).