One of the great things about the internet and social media is that everyone has a voice. This expansion of idea sharing has allowed us to learn more from each other, has generally helped make the world a smaller place and has shed light on many corners that were once shrouded in darkness.
Yet if you’ve spent much time on social media over the past few years you’ve likely noticed the downside to this as well.
The anonymity and distance that the internet provides have resulted in some of our darker sides coming out. Some people feel brave and become more aggressive, or downright vicious, with little thought to the human being on the other side of the screen. 
The connection between a person feeling anonymous and an increase in their aggressive communication has been studied as far back as 1952. 
These aggressive comments can be directed at a business, brand, public figure or pretty much anyone.
Think of some of the more harshly worded reviews you’ve seen online. How many do you think would have been delivered the same way if they were given face to face?
Are there potential real-world consequences for these types of posts?
CAN A BUSINESS BE HELD LIABLE FOR SOMETHING SOMEONE ELSE POSTS ON THEIR WEBSITE?
While countries like the USA and the UK have protection in place to shield third party businesses from legal action as a result of what people post on their websites , Canadian courts seem to be moving the other way and have been increasingly willing to hold businesses responsible for things others post on their websites.
This is likely due to these areas being largely unlegislated.
“As a result of the lack of a legislated liability shield and increasing damage awards in this space, intermediaries must consider and implement clear policies on how to respond to takedown requests by users who claim to have been defamed, to ensure that they remain mere “innocent administrators” and not tread into culpability. “ 
Bottom line: protect your business from vulnerability.
It would be nearly impossible to investigate the accuracy of every comment or post so ensure you have clear policies in place regarding the management of the online activity. Consider turning off the ability for others to comment on your material altogether.
CAN AN INDIVIDUAL BE SUED FOR DEFAMATION FOR WHAT THEY POST ONLINE?
Officially, yes. A British Columbia court awarded $230,000 in damages after it ruled the defendant acted in malice to defame their former lover. 
WHAT ABOUT THE CONTENT A BUSINESS POSTS?
If we’re talking about using copyrighted content that you did not create to sell your business, you can certainly be vulnerable to copyright claims and lawsuits.
Did you know there may be exceptions to the copyright rule? If you’re using a copyrighted image to share news or provide education on a topic that is not meant to sell your business, you may be safe from legal action.
If we’re talking about defamation, the same rules that apply to individuals would apply here for businesses.
If we’re talking about posting false or misleading information (whether purposely to deceive or accidentally from genuine ignorance), that is a bit more complicated.
The Canadian Competition Bureau is focused on misleading online advertising.
A couple of ways to make sure you’re not inadvertently breaking any rules:
- Make sure any influential marketing partnerships are clearly labelled as such so viewers are aware the influencer is being compensated in some way to promote your product or service.
- Be honest and avoid misleading or flat out false stats and claims that are designed to draw attention to your posts. Think clickbait that crosses the line.
The takeaway here is that we would all be wise to think before we type just like we’re taught to think before we speak. Free speech and a free internet should both be strongly protected, one of the ways we can all do that is to check our sources and keep the dialogue above board.
Erie Mutual Insurance proudly serves the business, home, farm and auto insurance needs of members throughout Southern Ontario including Haldimand, Niagara and Hamilton.
SOURCES Sular, 2004 – The Online Disinhibition Effect
www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/1094931041291295  Festinger, Pepitone and Newcomb, 1952 – Some consequences of de-individuation in a group
doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fh0057906  Section 230 Protections
www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/230  Ryan J. Black, Tyson Gratton, Joyce Okofo Adjei, 2020 – Significant online defamation damages in Canada — are online platforms immune?
Please contact us with any questions you may have about this or any other topic related to your insurance.