Be Careful of What You Say on the Internet

Defamation is the damaging of one’s reputation in the eyes of other people.  Its spoken form is known as “slander” and its written form is known as “libel”.  Libel is the more problematic form of defamation because, generally speaking, when Person A defames Person B by means of the spoken word, it is only those who have heard it who are effected and (assuming nobody repeats it) the words are then lost in the air; while, with libel, a defamatory statement that is written down will remain for however long the writing remains (a defamatory statement about Julius Caesar chiselled in the wall of the Roman Coliseum could still be read today, for example).

And then we have the Internet.  In my Roman Coliseum example, it is only if you go to Rome and happen to go to the exact column where the defamatory statement is written that you can find the statement.  With the Internet, I can now do a Google search on Julius Caesar and see the defamatory statement in a picture taken by some tourist two years ago – all from my desk.  And if Julius Caesar was still alive today and tried to get that picture removed from Google, he might succeed but by the time he had Google remove it, it would have been picked up by all numbers of other search engines, the “dark web”, etc.

A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court in McNairn v. Murphy dealt with two libellous statements written by two defendants in separate e-mails.  The fact that there could be defamatory by e-mail and that the plaintiff could sue and get judgment for that defamation is not particularly new and exciting.  But what IS interesting is that the Court decided to give a survey of the amounts awarded for damages in similar cases (many related to blog posts or comments on web sites, etc.) from across the country.  (See paragraphs 48 through 55.)  With one or two exceptions, it appears that the lowest amount awarded for Internet-based defamatory statements is $50,000.

So, if you happen to have an extra $50,000 or more burning a hole in your pocket, then feel free to let your fingers fly and type whatever you want about someone.  But if, like me and probably most people, you either don’t have that much money to burn or you can think of better things to spend your money on, you might want to count to 10 before you click on the “Send” or “Submit” button.

Something to think about.



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