Careless internet posts can be costly: Will
By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor
What you post online has the potential to live on in cyberspace and can have serious legal ramifications, says Toronto personal injury lawyer Gary Will.
“Something that you may not give much thought to, or post in a moment of anger, could potentially expose you to a very substantial monetary verdict,” says Will, the managing partner of Will Davidson LLP. “You have to be very careful that whatever you post on the internet is true and accurate because if it isn’t, you could potentially be liable in defamation.”
While not connected to any of the cases and commenting generally, Will cites several recent damage awards to illustrate the need to be prudent when posting to the internet. In the first case, a woman was pressured into making an explicit video of herself for her ex-boyfriend who promised he would be the only one who would see it. However, he later posted it on a pornographic website.
The woman “was devastated, humiliated and distraught,” the judge wrote in awarding her $100,000 in damages.
“What the judge had to say is that someone who gives publicity to a matter concerning the private life of another is subject to liability for invasion of the other’s privacy if the matter publicized would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and is not of legitimate concern to the public,” Will tells AdvocateDaily.com.
He says what sets internet defamation apart is that even if something is sent to a limited audience, “it’s easy to repost.”
Will points to a 2016 British Columbia case where a person took to social media to complain about a neighbour.
“That’s a case where a post suggested the plaintiff was possibly a pedophile, and it was reposted by other individuals,” he says.
Even though the defendant had taken down the original post, it was republished by 2,059 friends, as well as friends of those friends and had the potential to go out to the entire social media network, Will says.
“Once you put something on the internet, the defamation can go on and on,” he says.
Will notes that even though the judge in the case didn’t address the issue, he says those reposting a defamatory comment may also be held liable.
The law is evolving to “deal with these new modern problems,” he says, referencing another case to illustrate how the awards “have greatly expanded to meet the widespread dissemination of defamatory statements.”
The court heard a man was the target of a campaign involving anonymous emails that included defamatory statements that he was being investigated for money laundering and tax fraud.
“The defendants alleged the plaintiff, who is an accountant, was a tax fraud, thief and cheat,” Will says. “Those statements were made without any basis whatsoever.”
In the end, the court awarded the victim $700,000 in damages.
“It’s a substantial award to reflect the significant defamation because it was widely reposted on a number of internet sites,” says Will.
In a similar case, a court awarded $1.2 million after two men took to the internet to accuse a Vancouver businessman of being a “criminal, arms dealer, terrorist and mobster,” he says.
“In awarding damages, the judge noted that the statements were without foundation,” Will says.
“I think the courts are catching up in assessing damages and reflecting in their awards, the fact that these defamatory statements, once they go viral and are on the internet, they can potentially be seen by so many people and those statements stay up forever.”