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The use of Facebook and Twitter to defame someone can be costly !

Facebook, Twitter and Defamation ! Ottawa Injury Lawyers Comment on Recent Case
 
The wide spread use of social media has facilitated the ability of people to defame each other, sometimes anonymously or simply through electronic means which can quickly spread through the Internet. The use of words to defame a person’s character either in writing or orally can result in liability and having to pay significant damages to the person who is defamed. 
 
Postings on Facebook, Twitter and other electronic means through the Internet can be defamatory and often comments through the Internet can spread so quickly and be re-posted among many social networks, sometimes thousands of times. The law in respect of defamation through electronic means is evolving quickly in the courts throughout the world. Social media users need to be careful in what they post because the consequences can be significant and costly.
 
Neighbours’ Dispute Leads to Defamation
 
In Pritchard v. Van Nes, 2016 BCSC 686, a Facebook user published comments that were deemed to be defamatory.  This case involved a dispute between neighbours that was expanded into posts in part on Facebook.  The neighbours argued about a noisy waterfall in the Defendant’s backyard. Consequently, the Plaintiff filed complaints with the local city. The Plaintiff took videos and photos of the waterfall and the Defendant embarked on an Internet campaign, including posts on Facebook. She described the video that was taken by the Plaintiff and wrote such things as the Plaintiff “ videotapes my kids in the backyard 24/7!”.  The post was shared with the principal of the school that the Plaintiff taught at and the insinuation was that he was a potential pedophile. The school investigated and eventually dismissed the allegations but the effects on the Plaintiff were devastating.
 
In essence, the Defendant through posts that were shared insinuated that the Plaintiff was a pedophile. This greatly affected the Plaintiff’s reputation and affected many facets of his life.
 
Because the posts were shared and possibly distributed to or viewed by the defendant’s friend list of more than 2,000, the Justice hearing the case found that the posts multiplied the liability. To make matters worse, the Defendant’s privacy settings were set to public. This meant that the posts could be viewed by anyone on Facebook and there was no telling how often the posts were viewed. There was no accurate way to determine the full extent of the dissemination of the posts.
 
The Defendant, knowing that the posts were defamatory, did not remove them. In doing so, the Court found that the Defendant expressly or implicitly encouraged defamatory comments by others on the posts.  
 
The court awarded $50,000 in general damages, $15,000 in punitive damages, and $2,500 for the nuisance claim. The judgment also ordered the Defendant to turn off the waterfall in their backyard between 10 PM and 7 AM.
 
This case is a reminder that posts found to be defamatory through the Internet can result in significant liability and care should be given to ensure comments and posts do not damage the integrity of others.
 
Marc Quinn
Ottawa Injury Lawyer
613-315-4878
 

This article is meant for information purposes only and each case must be assessed on their own facts. Legal counsel should be retained to provide legal advice on your specific facts.