“My company recently bought products from a local store. They sent the invoice, but the invoice details and VAT number was incorrect and we asked them to correct it as our bookkeeper said we can’t pay until a correct invoice was received. In the meantime we now see that the store started posting comments on Facebook saying our business was bankrupt and that we don’t pay our accounts and people should stay away from us. I contacted the store to remove the posts, but they refused and said they would only do so when we paid their account. Surely this is completely unacceptable conduct! What can we do?”
Two fundamental rights contained in the Bill of Rights play a role in this regard. The right to human dignity (section 10 of the Constitution) and the right to freedom of expression (section 16 of the Constitution) come into play when looking at your situation. The right to freedom of expression can never be unlimited due to the fact that it must be balanced against other rights such as the right to human dignity. This means, no one has an unlimited freedom of speech.
It is at the juncture of these two rights that our law of defamation lies. Defamation has been defined as the intentional infringement of another person’s right to his good name and as the wrongful, intentional publication of words or behaviour concerning another person which has the effect of injuring his status, good name or reputation.
Even juristic persons have a right to dignity, meaning that the dignity of your business can also be infringed and it also has a right to a good name and reputation. A defamatory publication about a company or business which is false or untrue can therefore also constitute grounds for defamation. In short, this type of conduct such as the posting of untruths on Facebook to extort payment, is unacceptable and you would be well advised to contact your attorney immediately to assist you to formally respond to the store to cease and remove their posts and to advise you on the potential for succeeding in a claim of defamation against the store.