“A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.” – Joseph Hall.
Words, once spoken, can be impossible to every really take back.
The popularity of social media gives rise to a whole new group of potential defamation claims.
One case illustrates the importance of being careful when posting on social media sites. This case also demonstrates the importance of being careful when forwarding on or re-posting such comments, and failing to remove any additional comments added by others.
Pritchard v. Van Nes began as a dispute between two next door neighbours. After one heated event, the defendant took to Facebook and vented. She made various remarks about the plaintiff, who was a well-liked and respected middle school music teacher. The court ultimately found that the attacks on the plaintiff’s character were false. She insinuated, for example, that he was a pedophile and expressed some concern that he worked for a school district.
At the time, the defendant had over 2000 Facebook ‘friends’. Her privacy settings were set to ‘public’, meaning there were no restrictions on who could see her posts. Several of her friends posted replies to her original post. Many were derogatory toward the plaintiff. At least one ‘shared’ it, and also emailed the plaintiff’s principal to warn that he could be a pedophile.
The plaintiff sued the defendant for defamation and nuisance. He testified about the significant and irreparable harm that the defendant’s posts had caused him.
The court found that the Facebook posts profoundly and adversely affected his quality of life.
The defendant was held liable for damages for the defamatory remarks she made.
Interestingly, the court also held her liable for others’ republications of her defamatory remarks and for the email from one of her Facebook friend to the plaintiff’s principal. It noted that Facebook’s structure is such that anyone who posts in such mediums must realize that his or her post could be widely disseminated. Choosing this forum within which to post implicitly authorized republication of her posts both within social media and through other forms of electronic communication including email.
The court also found that the defendant knew of her friends’ defamatory comments. Although she had control of her Facebook page, she did not delete either those comments or her original posts. The court commented that the nature of Facebook created a reasonable expectation of further defamatory statements being made.
The court acknowledged the severity of allegations of this type to a teacher’s reputation, and noted that the impact would likely continue into the future.
In the end, the plaintiff was awarded $50,000 in damages. Partly to discourage reckless online behavior, a further $15,000 was awarded as punitive damages.
The moral of this story? Before “venting” on social media, take a few deep breaths, and consider whether doing so may not be such a great idea after all.
The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Specialist advice from a qualified legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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City of Brandon – August 7th Media Release – City of Brandon –
For the last 24 hours:
Drinking in Public Leads to Multiple Criminal Charges:
At about 11:40 AM Saturday morning, it was reported that a male subject was acting bizarrely in and around the 700 block Rosser Ave. When located in the area, the 21 year-old was drinking an alcoholic beverage so was detained under the LGCCA. He was subsequently found to be in breach of multiple conditions of two separate Probation Orders. Search incident to arrest revealed a machete in his backpack. He disclosed taking an unknown quantity of unknown pills, so was released on appropriate police imposed conditions as he was receiving medical assessment and treatment. He is to appear in Court on October 3rd, facing one count of possessing a weapon and six counts of failing to comply with a Probation Order.
Break & Enters:
An unlocked attached residential garage on Falcon Crescent was entered overnight on Friday and tools were stolen. Some of those were recovered strewn across neighbouring property.
A resident in the 300 block 27th Street reported that the detached garage had been forcibly entered overnight Thursday – Friday. The complainant was unsure if anything had been stolen but the walk-through door frame had been damaged during the incident.
Theft With Threat:
At about 3:50 PM Saturday afternoon, it was reported that a resident in the 700 block 20th Street had been robbed of a bicycle approx. 20 minutes prior, while in his back yard. Police attended and spoke with the victim who related that an unknown male came into his back yard and stole an old bicycle of no value, and brandished a knife while doing so. The suspect left without further incident. The suspect was described as Indigenous in appearance, 6’5”, skinny, wearing a blue hoodie, black bandana and hat. The knife was pulled from the front right pants’ pocket.
A 28 year-old female was encountered in the 700 block 18th Street Saturday evening, with personal effects strewn about a business vestibule. A records query revealed a warrant for arrest for failing to comply with a Probation Order. She was arrested and released on scene with a court date of October 3rd.
Just before midnight Saturday night, Brandon RCMP advised having a 51 year-old male in custody on the strength of a BPS held warrant for arrest for sexual assault. RCMP had attended to a complaint in Glenboro and encountered the accused. He is held in custody and will appear before the court later today.
Motor Vehicle Collision With Injuries:
At 11:15 PM Saturday night, 911 reported a two vehicle collision at the intersection of Russell Street and Madison Crescent. Two occupants were stuck in a vehicle that had rolled over onto its’ side. The investigation revealed that the driver of the rolled vehicle failed to stop at the stop sign. That driver was transported to BRHC by EMS with non-life threatening injuries. The second driver was uninjured.
Several people were detained from separate incidents, for their own safety or to prevent a breach of the peace, due to their level of intoxication. They will be held in custody until sober enough to care for themselves.
RELEASE AUTHORIZED BY:
A/Staff Sergeant Dallas Lockhart, #101
Anyone with information on any unsolved crime is asked to call Brandon Crime Stoppers at 204-727-(TIPS) 8477, www.brandoncrimestoppers.com or by texting BCSTIP and your message to CRIMES (274637). Crime Stoppers pays up to $2000.00 cash for information that leads to the solution of a crime.
CRIME STOPPERS 204-727-TIPS
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