Dealing with Defamation in the Internet Age

We live in an age where information travels literally at the speed of light (for those of you fortunate enough to get fiber optic internet connections). Unlike the days where media was limited to reporters and a few op-eds, everyone has a platform on the internet, whether it be through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, Youtube, or other social media.

What this means is that there is a lot of people posting a lot of things about a lot of people. This often leads to lawsuits about defamation, a form of civil litigation.

Below is some basic information about defamation.

What is Defamation

Defamation is generally when a communication lowers the reputation of an individual in the eyes of a reasonable person. In other words, if some post, statement, comment, review, etc would be seen as negative by the average person, it would likely fall under “defamation”, and may attract a lawsuit.

You may have heard terms such as “libel” and “slander” – these are both forms of defamation. In general, libel is a form of defamation with some sort of permanent record – such as a twitter or Instagram post.

In Ontario, there are specific definitions for “libel” and “slander” in the Libel and Slander Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. L.12. Libel is anything published in a newspaper or a “broadcast” – slander is everything else.

Broadcast in the Libel and Slander Act, however, has a very broad meaning – namely

    …the dissemination of writing, signs, signals, pictures and sounds of all kinds, intended to be received by the public either directly or through the medium of relay stations, by means of,

(a) any form of wireless radioelectric communication utilizing Hertzian waves, including radiotelegraph and radiotelephone, or

(b) cables, wires, fibre-optic linkages or laser beams

Virtually every public internet communication will be libel in the above definition.

What to do if you have been Defamed

If you feel someone’s communications have damaged your reputation, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

There are often shorter deadlines in defamation cases when compared to the usual 2-year limitation period for other lawsuits.

The Libel and Slander Act gives a 6 week deadline for notice in writing for cases of libel to the person or organization who made the statement, from the day you discovered or reasonably ought to have discovered the defamatory statement.

What to do to prevent Defamation Claims against you

The most surefire way to avoid a defamation claim is to not say anything – but this isn’t always practical or desirable. We as people need to socialize – and part of that often means talking about each other with each other. Doing so, though, will always create a risk that you may be sued for Defamation – it is unavoidable. That being said, there are things that you can do to reduce the risk of a successful lawsuit against you.

One way to avoid claims is to avoid making any statement that may affect someone’s reputation – that is, avoid making negative statements. Making negative public statements about individuals, whether truthful or not, can often attract unwanted legal attention. Even if you can successfully defend against a lawsuit, you still do not want to have to. Even if you win, you will likely not recover all of your legal fees, and the time and stress you face will not be compensated.

If you must make a negative post, review, etc. about someone, make sure every factual statement is true. Truth is an absolute defence to a defamation claim.

What to do if you’ve been sued or notified of a potential lawsuit for Defamation

Contact a lawyer immediately. If you have been served with a Statement of Claim, a Notice of Intent to Defend or a Statement of Defence needs to be filed within 20 days of service.

If you have a been notified of a potential claim, having a lawyer review the written notice, and advise you may assist in preventing a claim. An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.

To speak with us about your case, you can find more information on our litigation department or contact me at 647-598-1800.