Michael Cantwell, articled student, Shook, Wickham, Bishop & Field

Michael Cantwell, articled student, Shook, Wickham, Bishop & Field   

Defamation, in the form of libel, on social media has become extremely prevalent in recent years with the surge in popularity of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and others. The repercussions for propagating libel on social media was on full display in the British Columbia Supreme Court’s recent 2016 decision in Pritchard v Van Nes, 2016 BCSC 686.  

In Pritchard, a middle-aged school teacher’s reputation was tarnished due to his neighbor’s public Facebook post that insinuated he was a paedophile. Not only were those accusations untrue, they were only made in an effort to exact revenge on the teacher after he had complained about the level of noise coming from the neighbor’s water feature.  

The Court applied the Supreme Court of Canada’s defamation test which requires the defamation action to prove that the words used were defamatory (meaning they would lower the victim’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person), that the words referred to the victim, and that the words were published (communicated to at least one other person).  

Key to the Court’s decision was that the comments need not be explicitly defamatory, but that innuendo alone can lead to liability. Further, the Court held that due to the nature of “likes”, “comments”, and “shares” on social media, leaving a post open to the public can constitute republication.  

It was also held that the neighbor was liable for all subsequent “shares” or “third party comments” not directly published by the neighbor. Due to the neighbor’s control over her Facebook page and her ability to delete or rebuke defamatory comments, her failure to remove them in a reasonable time gave rise to liability. While damages will always vary depending on the facts, the neighbor in Pritchard was liable for $65,000 due to a single defamatory Facebook post. 

Michael Cantwell is an articled student at Shook, Wickham, Bishop & Field. Visit www.CRlawyers.ca for more information or call 250.287.8355. 

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