Watch what you tweet
January 13, 2012

Of all the many remarkable advances in science, medicine and technology that widely benefit modern society, the exponential use of social media must rank among the most progressive.

What began as a strategic military tool, the Internet has morphed into a valuable resource for untold communication applications, e-mails, blogs and tweets, mostly for good, lawful and legitimate purposes.

The downside of such progress, however, has not escaped the attention of the criminal element, who have quickly adapted to make use of the Web for committing fraud, producing and distributing child pornography, and much more.

Regrettably, the inappropriate use of such a powerful communications medium also includes the slanderous destruction of people’s good reputation. Recently, I had occasion to peruse a number of so-called tweets between a number of users, whose communications back and forth included the most flagrant defamatory reference to local community-spirited individuals whom I personally know to be decent, ethical and truly honourable people.

All of which caused me to think that the authors of those communications must naively believe that the Internet gives them protection from the reaches of legal consequences, that communications over the Internet are somehow protected by the notion of freedom of speech or that their anonymity is guaranteed.

There are clearly wrong assumptions in that the same laws that apply to traditional printed media, radio and television, verbal utterances, etc., apply equally to communications using the Internet.
Even if the communications originate from a fake name/source, the person who is defamed can apply for a court order to compel the Internet service provider to disclose the true identity of the account holder.

The courts in various decisions have acted to ensure that those who use the Internet to defame someone or to break the law will be held accountable, as they should be. In essence, the courts have ruled that there is no compelling public interest in allowing someone to libel and destroy the reputation of another while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

All of which serves, I believe, to highlight the fact that although some people may wrongly believe that slagging the reputation of decent people over the Internet is somehow privileged, the courts have ruled otherwise. Such slanderous communications are not immune from the reaches of the courts or a plaintiff’s pursuit of legal redress by launching a lawsuit, as they should.

Julian Fantino
MP, Vaughan