Facebook insult costs N$20 000

07 April 2021 | Justice

Windhoek • [email protected]

A Mariental doctor has won a defamation suit against a man who in 2018 made public claims on Facebook accusing the doctor of manhandling an “old woman”, arrogance and medical negligence.
High Court judge Nate Ndauendapo found in favour of Dr Berit David Platt, and ordered the defendant Arnoldus “Sydney” Apols to cough up N$20 000 in damages. Apols was also labelled as “arrogant” by the judge, who in his judgment dismissed his defence that he had no other options but to post his complaints to Facebook in late 2018.
“Facebook is a powerful tool used by people such as the defendant (Apols) to defame and ruin the reputation of innocent people. The only way for those aggrieved by such malicious and defamatory posts and tweets, is to approach the courts for appropriate relief,” he said in his strongly worded judgment.
The post that is costing Apols N$20 000 was published on 6 November 2018. He admitted he was not present when the incident he described on Facebook occurred and that he described the doctor as arrogant and disrespectful based on what he had heard.
It remains on Facebook, despite the court’s order for the post to be removed and for Apols to publish a public apology on the platform.
By 7 April, a day after the judgment was made public on the online justice platform on Tuesday, the post had been shared more than 120 times, and dozens of comments, including some calling on Apols to physically attack the doctor, remained public.
Platt is the health ministry’s chief medical officer for the Hardap region.
In March 2019, he sued Apols for N$100 000.
The post accused Platt of “insulting an old woman … after you gave an injection which she said it strong and was making her dizzy (sic).”
Apols also wrote that the Mariental GP had ordered security to “push clients out of your practice” and claimed he had “heard about your irrogance (sic) and lack of respect towards your clients.”
Ndauendapo wrote in his judgment that the doctor was able to prove during the trial that Apols knew placing his allegations on Facebook would have an “instantaneous, borderless and far-reaching” impact.
The judge concluded that the continued circulation and visibility of the post caused “immense harm and damage” to the doctor’s reputation, more than two years after its publication.
During the trial, Platt told the court that in the wake of the Facebook post, he noticed a steep decline in the number of patients visiting his practice.
Ndauendapo wrote in his judgment that instead of complaining about an incident he did not personally witness, Apols could have reported the doctor to the Health and Dental Council for misconduct, which he failed to do.
“What is aggravating is the conduct of the defendant (Apols). When he testified, he was arrogant and tried to justify his post by all means. He also testified that he has no intention of removing the post despite summons being issued,” Ndauendapo said.
During the trial, Platt testified that in the wake of the Facebook post, he received threats that he would be attacked with knives. He testified that other medical professionals contacted him after the post was published, expressing concern about what was written.
Platt was represented by Frieda Schulz from Neves Legal Practitioners, while Apols’ legal representative was Tukondjeni Nanhapo of Brockerhoff & Associates.