By IT-Lex Intern Karina Saranovic (LinkedIn)
Defamation isn’t necessarily on the rise; rather, the potential audience for allegedly defamatory statements has increased. With the internet sweeping the world, many people have started expressing their hateful messages online. This has raised questions as to how major providers like Google should respond, especially since the people posting defamatory statements often keep themselves anonymous.
Plaintiff Payam Tamiz’s recent case (Tamiz v Google) in the U.K. marks the “first time the higher court has addressed the issue of Google’s liability for defamation on its blogging platform.” From the opinion:
[A]n article [about the plaintiff was] posted on the London Muslim blog on 27 April. This gave rise to a number of comments posted anonymously over the next three days… The judge held that five of the comments could be characterised in this context as “mere vulgar abuse” to which no sensible person would attach much, if any, weight… He found, however, that three of the comments… were arguably defamatory. They included allegations that the appellant was a drug dealer, had stolen from his employers and was hypocritical in his attitude towards women.
Upon consideration, the Court held that, although Google is a provider and not typically responsible for user postings, the site still has an obligation to remove defamatory statements after receiving notice. In this case, it turns out that the plaintiff had complained to Google five weeks before the offending comments were removed. This lag time ”was sufficiently long to leave room for an inference adverse to Google Inc” but even so, the court found a lack of evidence as to how many people had actually seen the comments, and so plaintiff’s appeal was defeated.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice also just tackled the issue of anonymous online defamation in Manson v John Doe. Here, the plaintiff was an attorney and the defendant was – and remains – unknown.The opinion can explain what happened:
“The Blogger posts suggested that the plaintiff was a lying crook, a Nazi, a pedophile and rapist, a thief, and a morally repugnant imbecile… The plaintiff is obviously none of those things.”
In the absence of an identifiable defendant, a default judgment was issued for the plaintiff, amounting to $100,000 general damages, $50,000 of punitive damages, and $50,000 of aggravated damages, plus just under $50,000 in costs. The judge said:
“There is no possibility that an ordinary, right-thinking member of the public would not find that the posts exposed the Plaintiff to contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike, or disesteem…
There is no question that the Defendant has acted maliciously and oppressive. As must be obvious from these reasons, the Defendant’s actions offend the Court’s sense of decency. Reflecting, as the Court does, community standards, it is clear that a strong message of denunciation and deterrence must be sent. No doubt if the Defendant is ever identified he will face contempt proceedings. That said, his malevolent refusal to comply with a court order only adds to the case for punitive damages.”
Although these defamation suits were considered by two different Courts, in different jurisdictions, in completely separate countries, one universal theme seems to resonate: global parties are making a concerted effort to contain online defamation and cut it at its root.
§ One Response to Defamation And Anonymity: Beware Both Provider And Commenter
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.