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Online Libel and Slander

Writing online may give one the feeling of anonymity.  However, as the recent decision in Focus Graphite Inc. v. Douglas (2015 Ont. Sup. Ct.) demonstrates, one can be held accountable for one’s online postings in the same manner as if the postings were published in traditional print media.

In Focus, the Defendant posted several comments to a company’s online bulletin board in which he was found to have defamed the company’s president and CEO.  In brief, the Defendant in his postings called the president/CEO a liar and suggested that he defrauded investors.  The company and the president/CEO sued for damages.  The court considered that a plaintiff in a defamation case must prove:

  1. that the impugned words were defamatory, in the sense that they would tend to lower the plaintiff’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person. That test for the meaning of the impugned words in a defamation action is what the ordinary person would infer without special knowledge, also called the natural and ordinary meaning of words, and whether they would lower the reputation of the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally.

  2. that the words in fact referred to the plaintiff; and

  3. that the words were published, meaning that they were communicated to at least one person of the plaintiff.

The court found that the Defendant’s statements had in fact defamed the company and the president/CEO and awarded damages.  Interestingly, in addition to the general damages awarded, the court ordered an additional $10,000.00 in aggravated damages to essentially punish the Defendant who had attempted to circumvent the website’s suspension of his postings by creating a new username.

Thanks for reading,

Jason