Social media has opened up many exciting and innovative new ways to speak out and as a consequence, get you sued.
If you think you’re just posting among friends, think again. Your comments can go much farther than your own feed and could land you in hot water.
If you’re writing negative reviews, tweets or posts, you run the risk of defamation — a false, malicious statement intended to damage someone’s reputation. Written defamation is also called libel.
Defamation is a strict liability tort in Canada, meaning it’s assumed that the defamer acted intentionally. The defamer can be sued even if their statement was accidental or the result of negligence.
Since online content can be so widely disseminated, the lawsuit damages can be steep.
In one example from 2007, a British Columbia kayaking company was awarded $257,500 from unhappy customers who had posted an online critique, saying the company was disrespectful of the environment and local First Nations.
In Ontario, a businessman was awarded $400,000 after several online posters accused him of dishonest and unethical business practice.
Some accepted defences against libel are:
- Truth: even if it’s a harsh, a true statement is not libellous.
- Fair comment: a statement in the public interest that is known or can be proven as true, and said without malicious intent.
- Qualified privilege: When a person making a statement has an interest or duty to make it to another, and that recipient has a corresponding interest or duty to receive it. One example would be an employment reference. If a prospective employer asks for a reference and that reference provides a negative, but accurate appraisal of your performance, it’s not defamation.
- Not published: If it’s in a communication just between you and the insulted party, like an e-mail, this wouldn’t be considered “published.”
Posting on Facebook or Twitter may be slightly less dangerous than a negative review on Yelp or Google, since you can easily remove the libellous post yourself. But those can be re-tweeted and shared. A 2016 British Columbia case found a woman guilty of defamation and also held her responsible for her friends not only sharing her offensive post about her neighbour but the comments her friends made about him.
There’s still a risk no matter where you post. Be sure to control your temper and don’t say anything you can’t back up.
Defamation: Libel and Slander CBABC
Defamation in Canada