Defamation Law in the Internet Age

//Defamation Law in the Internet Age
Defamation Law in the Internet Age 2018-02-23T20:58:51+00:00

Join us on Thursday, May 3, 2018, at our conference, Defamation Law and the Internet: Where Do We Go From Here?


Project Brief

The LCO’s project is the most comprehensive analysis of Ontario’s defamation law framework to date. The project is examining the underlying purpose and function of defamation law and how defamation law should be updated to account for “internet speech,” including social media, blogs, internet platforms and digital media.

Defamation law protects reputation from harm caused by false words. The law tries to balance two fundamental yet potentially conflicting values: protection of reputation and freedom of expression. Both values are important to individuals and the functioning of a modern democracy. However, defamation law originated in the 17th century and the values and norms from that period continue to influence the law today. Ontario’s current defamation law developed primarily through common law supplemented by the Libel and Slander Act (LSA).

Now, in the 21st century, the advent of the internet has brought many of the legal principles underlying defamation law into question. The internet has revolutionized how we communicate. It instantly puts us in touch with a potentially global audience and we can, if we choose, speak to that audience anonymously. Publications are also increasingly electronic, whether they are in the form of a traditional media news story, digital media news story, blog or social media post. Furthermore, the power of the internet to connect individuals and groups has transformed us into a networked society where communities of shared interests exist regardless of geography.

These developments raise a host of specific issues in defamation law, including whether and when internet intermediaries should be liable for publications posted by others, when courts should assume jurisdiction over multistate internet defamation actions, whether notice provisions applicable to traditional media should be extended to others, and so on. It also raises more fundamental issues, such as who is the media, is the nature of reputation changing, is the nature of privacy changing and what is the relationship between privacy and defamation law.

The project will develop recommendations for updating the law to reflect the social and technological developments that will continue well into the future.

For more information about this project, we invite you to sign up for updates or get in touch with the Project Head, Dr. Susan Gratton, at sgratton@lco-cdo.org.


Download the full report (PDF)                                Download the Executive Summary (PDF)

Recent News

  • On November 6, 2017, the LCO released the project’s Consultation Paper. We kicked off consultations with a public lecture and interactive panel featuring Dr. Daithi MacSithigh (Professor of Law and Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast) and John D. Gregory (Advisory Group member and former General Counsel, Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General).
  • On October 31, 2017, project head Sue Gratton appeared on 6 live radio morning shows across Ontario: Windsor, Thunder Bay, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Sudbury and numerous rural communities in Southern Ontario. Sue had the opportunity to tell listeners about the project and to encourage the public to participate in the project’s consultations process.
  • In October, 2017 project head Sue Gratton was interviewed by CBC Go Public in a story about legal protections for consumers who post online reviews and businesses who are the subject of online reviews. A print story was published on October 27, 2017 and the story was also aired on CBC’s The National on October 30, 2017.
  • October 9, 2017: Congratulations to LCO Commissioned Researcher, Dr. David Mangan, for winning the prestigious Best Paper Prize, UK Society of Legal Scholars, for his paper “Reconsidering Defamation as a 21st Century Tort”. Dr. Mangan’s paper was based on research supported by the LCO as part of our Defamation Law in the Internet Age project.
  • On September 18, 2017, a Canadian Lawyer article featured Emily Laidlaw’s LCO commissioned paper on new legal approaches to online defamation.
  • A Lawyer’s Daily article on August 10, 2017, talks about the project, and the release of our commissioned research papers.
  • In July and September 2017, we released the five research papers commissioned by the LCO for this project.
  • In a Lawyer’s Weekly article on August 12, 2016 project head Sue Gratton described the intention of the project to re-examine the balance between the values underlying defamation law – protection of reputation and the Charter right to freedom of expression – in light of social and technological developments over the past 35 years. Advisory Group member Daniel Burnett identified some key issues in the project including the issue of intermediary liability for defamatory content uploaded by others and the possibility of introducing a serious harm requirement as has been adopted in the United Kingdom.
  • The LCO has contributed a brief submission to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) consultation on Online Reputation. Although the OPC project  is focused on privacy rather than defamation, both of our projects seek to address the problem of online reputational harm while protecting the Charter  right to freedom of expression. Our submission is intended to ensure that the OPC and LCO are aware of and may benefit from each other’s work.

What We Have Done So Far

  • In the summer and fall of  2015, we began preliminary research in order to determine the parameters of the project.
  • From November 2015 to March 2016, we held approximately 35 consultations with stakeholder groups including complainants in defamation actions, traditional and new media organizations, defamation lawyers and academics, government representatives, members of the judiciary, advocacy organizations, internet intermediaries, and online review businesses..
  • In March 2016, we convened an Advisory Group that will assist the LCO throughout the project. The first Advisory Group meeting was held in April 2016.
  • In June 2016, the Board of Governors approved the project methodology, which includes a project scope statement describing the issues to be addressed in the project.
  • In August 2016, the LCO released a call for research papers describing the LCO’s intention to fund several research papers as well as the criteria and terms for funding.
  • In July and September 2017, the LCO released five research papers commissioned for this project.
  • The Consultation Paper was released on November 6, 2017 and the consultation period commenced with a public lecture and interactive panel featuring Dr. Daithi MacSithigh (Professor of Law and Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast) and John D. Gregory (Advisory Group member and former General Counsel, Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General). Public consultations will be ongoing until spring 2018.

Next Steps

  • The release of the Consultation Paper launches an intensive five month period of public consultations, during which we encourage input from all members of the public interested in these issues. During this period, we expect to hold several focus groups in concert with our community partners. We will also conduct individual interviews on an ongoing basis. We encourage submissions from individuals and organizations until March 30, 2018.
  • We invite policy-makers, stakeholders, and the general public to review and comment upon the commissioned research papers.
  • On Thursday, May 3, 2018, we will host an international conference on some key issues in the project, culminating the consultations process.

Project Documents