Central businessman to pay ex-WI cricketer $800k for Facebook libel

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dinanath Ramnarine

A Central businessman and cricket administrator has been ordered to pay $831,823.65 to former West Indies spin bowler Dinanath Ramnarine for a “libellous rampage on Facebook” in 2016.

Rafi Ali, who was a nominated member of the TTCB, its Central Zonal Council and president of the Esmeralda Cricket Club, was ordered to pay Ramnarine $775,000 in damages, plus interest and an additional $56,823.65 in legal fees, by Master Martha Alexander in a recent ruling.

Ramnarine sued after Ali posted a comment on his Facebook page while the former West Indies cricketer was at the Sports Company.

Ali also e-mailed TTCB members and republished a Facebook post inserting his own commentary “to demonstrate his ill-will and mala fides” towards Ramnarine, the judgment said,

Alexander said Ali acted deliberately, jeeringly and maliciously.

In ordering the payment of compensation, she said it would “serve to caution any defendant who uses Facebook or any other social media platform to libel and destroy a claimant’s reputation that he will feel the punitive arm of the court acting to deter such behaviour.”

She said Ali’s Facebook libel was staged to destroy Ramnarine’s reputation.

“And the court must send a message that such reckless abuse of social media platforms must stop.

“The defendant before this court will not be allowed to use Facebook to boost his popularity at the claimant’s expense or ‘to sell another man’s reputation for profit.’

“If a defendant’s sport of choice is Facebook libel then the consequences of such virtual sporting libel must burn the pockets of the defendant to achieve deterrence…This would act as a punishment to this defendant and deterrence to him and others that Facebook libel is no sport in which to engage.”

She said Ramnarine had “huge footprints both locally and regionally” and, as a sporting personality, he had a presence in and contributed to the governance and development of the sports of cricket and football.

“This is not a claimant who is an unknown, voiceless or a non-contributing participant in the sporting arena. This is a claimant whose name has widespread recognition, commands worldwide respect and whose contribution to the sporting world is undisputed.”

Alexander said the “surefire spread” of Facebook libel was common knowledge to users of the platform, who “must be assumed to know and intend to disseminate the libel worldwide.”

She also said Facebook libel was a booming platform for any defendant “who wants to act with impunity by ignoring the numerous judicial cautions to Facebook users to desist from online character assassinations because of defamation’s far-reaching consequences.”

In Ramnarine’s case, the defamatory materials “were offensive, egregious and aimed to wound” him by sending them to millions.

She said Ali, as a member of the TTCB, would have profited from tarnishing Ramnarine’s reputation for integrity and professionalism.

“A defamed person cannot hide or escape from Facebook libel, as it follows him into his home, behind closed doors and wherever he goes. Facebook libel is invasive, leaving inescapable stigmas that survive long after the offending words are no longer online talking points.”

She said it was presumed Ali intended to attract maximum attention and do maximum damage by his actions and failed to take steps to mitigate his wrong, not even apologising to Ramnarine.

“It was presumed that he understood his influence with his online audience, and in the sporting industry, when he set out to wreck the career of the claimant with his Facebook libel.

“In the face of his libellous carnage, the defendant refused to apologise and continued unhindered in his own career, while the claimant was left to deal with the professional and personal wreckage caused by the defamation.”

At the High Court level, Ali failed to defend the claim against him filed in 2019 by Ramnarine, who received judgment in default in September 2020.

Alexander said when he went on his libellous rampage, Ali was “uncaring of the wreckage that he would leave in the path of his libellous rampage, particularly the damage to the sporting industry.”

In examining the libel, she used strong language to describe the words Ali used and their effect on Ramnarine, and said the gravity of the libel was indisputable and uncontested.

“The court, therefore, accepted that the defamatory statements were grave, derisive and injurious, and so far from inconsequential. In the court’s view further, the defendant was fully aware of what he was doing when he took to his Facebook page and creatively previewed his attack with the post.

“These were sinister words used to advertise that he was providing ‘food for thought’ and that something warranting serious consideration was about to follow.”

Ali was accused of carefully previewing his libellous comments to “whet the appetites of his audience” and sensationalising the presentation for maximum effect.

Ramnarine was represented by attorney Vivek Lakhan-Joseph and Savini Balroop. A 48-day stay of the court’s orders was granted.