Defamation typically means negative statements made by one person about another person that are communicated or published. It can also include comments made against a company or organization.
To qualify as defamation, the spoken or published statement must be false and damaging to the reputation of the targeted party.
People say and write things that may be considered defamatory all the time, particularly with the increased use of social media and the use of the Internet to rate and review companies and services. However, very few people consider the legal consequences of their comments before they click “post”.
Individuals who post defamatory statements on the Internet may feel particularly safe from the consequences of their comments due to the anonymity the Internet affords. On the Internet, there is no requirement to use your real name, and it is often difficult to determine at first glance the true identity of the person behind a defamatory post. Moreover, while many websites now provide the ability to “report” or “block” users who are engaging in this type of behavior, there is no definitive way to prevent the individual from creating a new account to pick up where they left off.
However, what many Internet users may not realize is that most websites keep track of the user information behind each post. This user information can then be provided to Internet service providers, such as Bell, or Rogers, who can then take this information, including the computer address (IP address), and determine a physical address or subscriber information, which can be used to identify that user.
Website operators and Internet service providers take their obligations to protect the privacy of their users and customers seriously, and will not provide this information to just anyone. However, they are obligated to provide user or subscriber information if the subject of the defamatory posts obtains a court order for the information.
Once this information is obtained, the subject of the defamatory posts can then begin a lawsuit against the author of the post to compensate them for any losses or suffering that they have experienced. In order to prove to the Court that you are entitled to be compensated for your losses, you will need to show:
1. That the posts are defamatory, in the sense that they are likely to lower the reputation of you or your businesses in the eyes of a reasonable person;
2. That the posts, in fact, refer to you or your business and
3. That the posts were published or communicated online.
If you proceed with a lawsuit for defamation, there are many possible outcomes depending on whom the posts are directed towards and the type of damage they have caused. The general principle is that any financial compensation for a victim of defamation, like any other type of lawsuit, should attempt to measure in monetary terms the loss or injury the victim has suffered. In this sense, financial compensation might be given to compensate the victim for damage to their reputation, for business losses, or even for mental suffering and embarrassment. If there is a tangible loss such as a contract ending because of the post, that is the amount that a judge may order. If the loss is limited to embarrassment, a judge may order damages for hurt feelings in the amount of $1,000-$2,000. Suing for embarrassment may not be financially worth the investment.
Another potential outcome is that the Court may grant a permanent injunction, or forbid the poster from publicizing the same or similar defamatory comments in the future. However, due to the serious restrictions a permanent injunction places on freedom of speech, permanent injunctions are only given in rare cases.
The general purpose of the law surrounding defamation is to protect individuals and companies against false or malicious statements that are intended to damage their reputation.
If you discover that someone is posting derogatory or false comments about you or your business on a blog, forum, or website, you should first demand that the person stop. If you don’t know who that person is, you may need to obtain a court order to find out his or her identity and in the meantime request that the website take down the posts. Our firm has obtained numerous court orders to determine the identity of people who post defamatory comments or content.
Your right to request that a website operator or Internet service provider reveal the identity of the anonymous poster will be weighed against the posters’ right to privacy. Fortunately, Canadian Courts have recognized that in the case of an anonymous user who seeks to tarnish the reputation of an innocent individual or and business with false or derogatory comments, the cloak of anonymity provided by the Internet should be stripped away.
Written by Brittany Miller