Defamation: Fighting Facebook Posts
Is talking trash on Facebook illegal? In a recent undefended Ontario Superior Court Decision, defaming his uncle on social media cost one poster $32,000.
This case stems from a family squabble. When a grandfather living in India died, one family member was not too impressed with who got the lion's share of inheritance. The anger inspired a string of Facebook posts by a nephew towards his 73-year-old uncle. Here are some examples cited by the Court:
"David told me he “expected” $1 million cash from me – silently, I thought you must be kidding me" … "David is in need of money. He never planned for retirement. He is looking for payback for sponsoring family members to Canada again, not my problem." … "David is Jagdish Kukreja’s younger brother residing in Toronto, Canada and disowned by Jagdish for having a love marriage in 1967."
Also, the Defendant sent private Facebook messages to others in the family knocking his uncle :
"Kumar is stating I called him a terrorist and extortionist.
I believe he resorted to terrorist style tactics by sending hate mail to both me and his brother in India and having others make threatening phone calls on his behalf.
Since reporting the incident to local police last year, Kumar has given up on such tactics".
"As far as being an extortionist, I believe he is and will continue on the same path unless someone puts a stop to him. I am the one who will stop him one way or another.
His obsession to become a millionaire in his final years on Earth does not seem to go away. He needs help from family members if anyone dares to step in and help. …
Kumar is a very angry and greedy man. Shame on a man his age seeking compensation for his own acts/behavior from many years ago and now for which he is paying the price".
The Plaintiff was able to convince the Court that these statements caused him severe harm. Witnesses testified that the Plaintiff has withdrawn, become depressed, speaks less and shown less vigor since the statements were made.
The Court found that these statements met the threshold for defamation which is as follows:
(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; (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 other than the plaintiff. If these elements are established on a balance of probabilities, falsity and damage are presumed, though this rule has been subject to strong criticism…
The plaintiff is not required to show that the defendant intended to do harm, or even that the defendant was careless. The tort is thus one of strict liability.
As you can see, the test is pretty easy to meet. I am surprised we do not see many more cases like this.
Next was to assess damages. After a review of the case law, the Court settled on $15,000 in general damages and $15,000 in aggravated damages.
What does this case tell us? It says that Courts are beginning to understand that social media posts can and do hurt people.
If you think someone has harmed you by posting on social media call our offices today for a free consultation.