23 Jan 2018

Social Media and Domestic Violence

by Verlie Oosthuizen, Partner, Durban,

Last week I was lucky enough to receive an email from one of the show’s listeners who is a magistrate and kindly sent me an important judgment from Gauteng (much appreciated!). It told the sad tale, which has become far too common place these days, of a relationship gone badly wrong resulting in the scorned lover turning to Facebook to humiliate his ex.

The relationship started in less than wholesome circumstances when one of the participants lied about being an unmarried man. The couple soon become seriously involved and decided to marry, despite the man already having a wife!  Much to his new girlfriend’s horror, she was confronted by his spouse and promptly terminated the relationship.

He refused to accept the end of the relationship and told his ex-girlfriend that if he could not have her then nobody could.  He started a fake Facebook account and posted the intimate pictures and videos that they had shared during their relationship. Besides this awful behaviour he also stalked her and threatened her with violence.

She approached Facebook through her attorneys to have the content removed.  She also applied for a domestic violence order and requested that all her ex-boyfriend’s digital devices be seized by the sheriff so that they could be forensically examined, and all the content removed. The magistrate refused to grant that part of the order.

Luckily the brave woman took the matter on appeal and now we have a good precedent for the future.  The High Court found that the magistrate should have granted the order and that the man had shown that he could not be trusted to guard his ex-girlfriend’s privacy. The court found that his right to privacy relating to the seizure of his devices was less important that her right to privacy and dignity since he had posted her pictures online.

These kind of judgments are really important in dealing with social media law as they provide clear guidelines to us about how the courts will look at matters.