Social Media and Defamation - A Cautionary Tale
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
I recently came across a news article about a Vancouver woman ordered to pay her ex $200,000.00 after trashing his reputation online. Most people have a general understanding about the concept of defamation, but you rarely hear about actual defamation orders being made or damages being awarded.
After coming across the article, I decided to research the case and see whether any general principles could be taken from it. In the case, Noelle Halcrow was accused of defaming Brandon Rook online. The pair had dated for approximately one month in August 2015 and for 5 months in 2016. After Mr. Rook ended the relationship, Ms. Halcrow allegedly began defaming him online. The posts were largely on Instagram and referred to Mr. Rook as a cheater, a drunk and insinuated he had STD’s. The posts were made over the course of a year and were incessant. Mr. Rook was a consultant in the mining industry, and he claimed that the defamation affected his reputation. Ms. Rook denied making the posts, however, there was sufficient evidence for the judge to determine that she was responsible for the posts.
Justice Myers, the judge in this case, defined a defamatory statement as one that a reasonable person would find capable of causing injury to the reputation of the person about whom it is made, and which causes that person to be viewed with “feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike, or disesteem”. It is not necessary for the Plaintiff to prove that anyone actually read the defamatory statement if it can be reasonably inferred.
Where defamation is found to have occurred, a judge can order damages against the person who made the statement. Where a judge finds a malicious intent behind the statement, aggravated damages can be awarded.
In this particular case, the judge ordered Ms. Halcrow to pay general damages of $175,000.00, aggravated damages of $25,000.00, $29,870.00 for the out-of-pocket costs paid by Mr. Rook to repair his reputation and costs.
A quick online search does not find many cases where defamation was found in family law situations. That being said, the courts seem to be taking more notice of social media and the wide-reaching nature of social media posts. It is very rare to see a family law case that does not include a reference to Facebook, Instagram or some other social media platform. I always warn my clients to be careful about what they post online, and this is a clear example of that. It will be interesting to see whether defamation cases become more widespread in the coming years with increased social media usage.