In April 2015, the Daily Mail UK online published an article which revealed startling statistics around the incidences of social media being cited as the catalyst for divorce (the statistics were compiled by the law firm Slater and Gordon).
According to the study undertaken by Slater and Gordon, one in seven spouses felt strongly enough about their spouse’s postings on Facebook that they considered divorce. A similar number used social media platforms to uncover infidelity, and approximately one in five say spouses have regular arguments due to the manner in which their spouse used social media.
The impact of social media is also often felt after the decision has been taken to divorce. It is often almost impossible for an injured spouse to resist the urge to take to a social media platform and share his/her feelings regarding their spouse – who has either injured their feelings by embarking on an extra-marital affair, failed to pay what they consider to be appropriate maintenance for children, or simply anger.
The divorcing spouses, on the other hand, often publish pictures of new partners or joyful announcements at the fact that they have ditched their “old” spouse and are in the process of moving on to better pastures.
Law of Defamation
The law in South Africa, which pertains to the publication of statements which may impact upon or be damaging to another, is the law of defamation. This is based on “actio iniuriarum”, which is in simple terms a remedy which came from Roman Law and gives the right to claim damages to a person (in a monetary amount) who personality rights have been intentionally damaged by the act of another.
A person alleging defamation need only show his or her existence in a particular society and the damage to his or her reputation. The statement, in addition, need not necessarily be false or untrue – however if it is true – to show that it is not defamatory, the perpetrator would need to produce evidence that the publication of the statement was, for example in the public interest or “fair comment” in their defence.
Impact on Children
One of the most important aspects of social media in a family law setting must be the impact that the reckless posting of statements or pictures have on children who have access to the information via the Internet. The damage which can be caused by either or both parents resorting to social media to vent their anger or frustration (whether such statements or postings are defamatory or not) must be substantial.
As more and more of what have become known as “twibel” cases come to court overseas and in South Africa, the need for restraint on social media platforms is becoming greater. In the world of the family dispute, the requirement for complete restraint should be enacted to better protect children.