The danger of defaming someone on Facebook has again been highlighted in a damages claim instituted by a Centurion businessman whose name was “dragged through the mud” following a run-in with his neighbour.
Paul Hechter said in papers before the high court in Pretoria that he was accused of being a Peeping Tom, a pervert and a paedophile. This smear campaign, he said, caused him immense hardship, as messages of hate poured in from “concerned Centurion citizens”.
“I was called a sick bliksem, a sick monster who should be kept away from children, a f****** paedo, and even a disgusting piece of s***.”
Apart from the community’s tongues wagging about his “misconduct”, he started to receive threats via Facebook. “One person threatened that he and a biker gang would sort me out for being a paedophile and a child molester.”
Hechter said the author of the messages was Michelle Benade, his neighbour.
He obtained an order against her in February in terms of which she had to retract the statements she had made about him on Facebook. She had to apologise for her comments and was interdicted from posting any similar comments in future.
But Hechter turned to court again – this time claiming R1.3 million in damages from Benade for defaming his good name and reputation.
The woman did not defend the action and Hechter asked the court for a summary judgment.
Judge Mmonoa Teffo, however, postponed the matter indefinitely as Hechter was required to file a further affidavit in the matter.
Hechter said his problems started in April last year when Benade and her family moved into the unit next to his. They kept chickens close to the border wall and he asked them to make a plan with the chickens, as they were noisy and disturbed the peace.
They did get rid of the chickens, but Hechter said “this was not the end of my neighbour troubles”.
Next they got about 50 to 60 rabbits, kept in a “dirty and smelly cage” next to the wall. They attracted flies, stank and posed a health risk, he said. After he complained to the body corporate, Benade released them in the estate, for which she was fined.
From then on Benade made his life hell, he said. She posted an enlarged picture of him on Facebook and called him her “perverse neighbour”. Copies of the screenshots were handed in to court as evidence.
As he was threatened by people believing the posts and out of fear for his life, he moved. “To my utter shock and amazement Benade and her family also moved… They moved in right next to me and were once again my neighbours. I could not believe this and I am sure it is because she wants to carry on with her vendetta against me.”
Hechter said his good name and reputation went down the drain as he was labelled a pervert and he had no choice but to obtain an interdict against her. After being ordered to retract the statements and apologise, Benade only did so on her private Facebook wall.
According to him, Benade has a tendency to defame people she has a problem with. He handed in a letter to court, in which it appeared that lawyers acting for Amor Vittone, television personality and former wife of Joost van der Westhuizen, also complained about Benade. Her lawyer threatened to turn to court if Benade did not stop.
Benade did not offer her side of the story to the court.