If comments on a news outlet’s website are proved to be defamatory, then the company is just as responsible, legally, as if the offending statements were in printed in hard copy -- at least in Canada.
This month, Thomson Reuters, one of the largest media companies in the world, announced it would no longer allow anonymous comments on its website, citing the comments’ “repetition, taste, legal risk or political bias.”
The shift away from creating an online community, once the focus of media companies desperate to remain relevant in the digital age, has been echoed by the CBC, New York Times, Washington Post, and many others who have all, in the past year, announced they would review the practice of unfettered, unidentified commentary online.
The case against anonymous online comments has been highlighted by news this weekend that a Toronto police officer has filed a lawsuit asking Google to reveal the identity of YouTube users who mocked his actions, which were captured on camera during a G20 summit protest this summer.
Const. Adam Josephs was filmed during the Toronto protests telling a young woman that she would be arrested for assault if she blew bubbles in his face.
Nicknamed “Officer Bubbles,” clips of Josephs’ confrontation spawned plenty of comments directed at him, including comics created by a YouTube user, that the officer claims are defamatory, according to his statement of claim.
“From our client’s perspective, he was performing his duty as a police officer in what was an extremely volatile time at the summit,” said Josephs’ lawyer, James Zibarras.
While he said Joseph’s actions at the summit can be subject to criticism, “that reaction had this massive backlash that we say is disproportionate and incommensurate to what happened, and started getting to the point where it included threats.”
The suit seeks the identity of YouTube user ThePMOCanada — as well as those of 24 other commenters who Josephs contends defamed him — and $1.2 million in damages.
The videos have since been taken down. The videos drew comments both threatening and insulting to the officer.
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