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Defamation: sub-module 15 of 16 of learning online: online safety category

This module introduces defamation and internet defamation. How we conduct ourselves in the virtual world can have some very powerful real world consequences. PLEASE NOTE: this page provides information ONLY. We do not provide legal or other professional advice. If you require advice, you need to speak with an expert.



  • Don't underestimate the power of posting something online.Posting something online is often public and permanent and may be costly.
  • Never post messages when you are angry.Walk away and cool down before you post online or send emails/text messages.
  • Choose your words wisely.Writing a negative review can be acceptable, however it doesn’t have to be mean.
  • Defamation can affect anyone.People of all ages can be victims.
  • Watch what you repost.Don't retweet or repost something that could be considered defamatory.

Additional Information

Notable Legal Cases

The articles below cover cases that dealt with defamation:

A woman was ordered to pay her ex $200,000 in damages after she made more than 85 online posts defaming him on social media sites.

Rancourt was accused of defamation for a blog post that called St. Lewis a racial slur. Rancourt counter argued with fair comment but failed and the jury awarded St. Lewis a total of $794,895 in damages.

Awan was part of a protest that sparked online debate over the Canadian Human Rights Act section for hate speech. Levant was found to have defamed Awan with malicious comments, Levant is to pay a total of $80,000.

"This decision affirms for employers that, absent evidence of malice, negative references about current or former employees will generally be protected from liability for defamation."

Ontario Superior Court ordered Kevin J. Johnston to pay a total of $2.5 million in damages for defamation to Mohamad Fakih, the owner and founder of Paramount Fine Foods.

Johnston had made a series of videos including a claim Fakih was an "economic terrorist" with backing from the Pakistani spy agency. He also alleged the restaurant barred customers who weren't a "jihadist."

Nazerali was the subject of defamatory articles published on which falsely portrayed him as an arms dealer, drug trafficker, al-Qaida financier, and a member of the Italian and Russian mafias. Nazerali was awarded $1.1 million, which is one of the largest in Canadian legal history.


What is Defamation?

Defamation is separated into Libel (written statements) and Slander (oral statements). These are untrue statements that are harmful to someone's reputation. The statements can be about a person, business, organization, group, nation, or product.

"According to Article 17 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no person may be subjected to unlawful interference with his family, home, privacy, honor, or reputation. It also specifies that every person has the right to be protected against such interference." 

What is Not Defamation?

Generally, a harmful statement will not amount to libel, if one of the following defences applies:

If it was only made to the person mentioned in the statement, and not to anyone else.
If it is actually true, and the person making the statement makes the statement honestly and not maliciously.
Absolute privilege applies to statements made in court (as evidence in a trial) or in parliament.
Qualified privilege protects statements made non-maliciously and for well-meaning reasons. For example, if an employer is requested to give a reference for an employee, and they give a statement that is their honest opinion.
The defence of fair comment may apply in situations where statements made were about issues of public interest, as long as the comments were honest statements of opinion, based on fact. If your statements were malicious, this defense will not apply.
This defense is available in libel cases. It allows journalists the ability to report statements and allegations, in cases where there is a public interest in distributing the information to a wide audience. However, this defense only applies where the news was urgent, serious and of public importance, and the journalist used reliable sources and tried to report both sides of the issue.

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