Whistler Question newspaper column, August 8, 2017: Social Media and Online Defamation
Have you noticed that communication on social media can be nasty and disrespectful? For whatever reason, people post comments to each other in condescending tones that belittle the opinions of others. And although it may be worse when those interacting don’t know each other, it seems that it is the case even when they do.
The reality is that online technology enables us to share and post our opinions instantly. That power can create a sense of false security, as users mistakenly believe they have a right to their opinions with freedom of speech as protection.
But posting defamatory statements about an individual or business can blur the line between one person’s right to freedom of speech and another’s to not have his or her reputation unfairly attacked.
What is defamation?
The Canadian Bar Association defines defamation as communication that hurts someone’s reputation. The communication must be made to other people, not just to the person it’s about. Written defamation is called “libel,” and spoken defamation is called “slander.”
Some mistakenly believe Canada’s defamation laws don’t apply to online forums, blogs or social media platforms but the right to free speech doesn’t extend to disseminating lies that damage reputation, whether via internet or any other channel.
It can be tricky to determine how best to deal with defamation. Launching counteraction could further publicize the libel and with online outreach, it may give credibility to the statements. Defamatory statements may also ‘self-correct’ with others defending your reputation through comments and essentially reflecting badly on the person posting.
What To Do If You Are A Victim of Online Defamation
Here is a suggested course of action that may help protect you.
Assess the Situation. Before taking any action, let emotions simmer and fully consider if it is legitimate defamation.
Keep Records. Document all communication. Comments may get removed from the Internet so immediately take screenshots capturing the entire webpage.
Make a List. Review all statements and list what is true, what is not true and what is based on speculation. Note how you can definitively prove the statements are false.
Approach the Poster. The most desirable outcome is to work it out with the person who is attacking. Advise them that the statements are not true and ask that they remove them immediately. Depending on the situation, you may also request that they publicly post that the statements were false, and apologize for their actions. If they refuse, advise them that you’ve documented all activity and will investigate your legal rights.
Update Administrators. Advise website administrators so they know action has been initiated against the person posting. In some cases, administrators can also be held responsible.
Damage Control. To mitigate damage to a business, you may want to reach out to your clients or even work with a public relations expert.
Think before you post.
And for those that choose to publish through social media, know that your comments are indeed public and should they be based more on opinion and emotion, you may find yourself in a legal battle. Or at the very least, you may be the one that is left with a tarnished reputation.
Lastly, it would be great if people would think from a humanity perspective. As you post, your brain should have three gatekeepers: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
HOW ABOUT YOU? As a victim of disparaging comments recently, I seriously think before I post online now. Have you been a victim of online lies and has this blog made you think before you post on social media?
At Lighthouse Visionary Strategies, Cathy Goddard offers business and life coaching, workshops and is the founder of Lighthouse Mentor Network, a mentor program nominated for Small Business BC Awards for 5 consecutive years. She writes this business column for the Whistler Question newspaper.