Libelous Facebook Post Costs Israeli Woman $3,400

Arad woman who thought a supermarket gave her the wrong change used Facebook to express her grievance. Bad idea.

The Dimona Magistrate’s Court on Sunday ordered an Arad woman to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,850) damages and another 2,000 shekels ($570) in legal expenses to a local grocer who she libeled on Facebook.

What the woman wrote, the court ruled, was not an opinion but a baseless claim intended to harm the plaintiff’s business.

In September 2012, the woman purchased a number of items in the plaintiff’s grocery store, for a total of 41 shekels. Several hours after the purchase, she suspected that she had received the wrong change and returned to the store.

The owner said that he would count the take at the end of the day and return the money to her if there was a surplus. The next day he told her that there had not, in fact, been a surplus.

The woman described the incident in a post to a group of Arad residents on Facebook: “An important notice to consumers in Arad who shop in Gili’s supermarket: There is a repetitive phenomenon to which you should pay attention. When a person buys items and pays with a 200 shekel banknote, they have a way of diverting your attention by starting a conversation and not returning the right change. It happened to me on Tuesday.”

She added that the owner should have counted the take while she was there, rather than waiting until the end of the day, and called on consumers who buy in the grocery to check the total amount of the purchase. “The issue is not the 100 shekels I was missing, but the method,” she wrote.

The court considered the damage caused to the plaintiff, whether the words were written in good faith and whether they were written as part of the right to freedom of expression. Judge Ron Solkin wrote in his decision that the things written by the woman were meant to harm the plaintiff’s business. “The Internet is the new ‘city square,’” he wrote in the ruling, “where people find a platform and believe they have the freedom to express themselves on any subject they please. However, it seems that the public has not yet internalized the potential for harming others, and accordingly the obligation of the posters to practice self restraint.”

The judge noted that the court was taking into account the fact that there is no proof that the post did in fact harm the business, and therefore did not apply the full severity of the law. “But the public must internalize that the leniency will not last forever, and that in future higher compensation may be demanded, as long as the obligation of self-restraint on the Internet is not internalized.”