Have you ever wondered if your conversation and/or identity is protected when you chat or post online? People can feel empowered and encouraged to speak their mind especially for some when their identity is protected.
Where does opinion and the protection of free speech get clouded and cross the line becoming defamation.
We have always encouraged our readers to be respectful while still stating their opinions on the many issues we try to report on that affect our community. Reporting on political figures in our community, events or information that result in comments by viewers is part of many online publications including Oakville Chit Chat.
For any publication and online site it is sometimes difficult to balance the rights of those posting, those being commented on and the publications liability.
Politicians in every arena of politics (town hall, education, ministries, etc) along with celebrities are often subject to much discussion because of the fact they become public figures once they enter the political or public arena.
A recent ruling last week, however, does now shed some light on the delicate balance. A case heard at the Ontario Superior Court involving Phyllis Morris, former Mayor of Aurora helps shape the debate legally. After being defeated Morris launched a legal action against a site where an online chat forum discussed the local election campaign. The site auroracitizen.ca was requested to identify the identities of three anonymous posters after Morris claimed six postings were defamatory. Morris did not disclose what had been said but rather wanted the identities of the three who posted.
The court stated the question was balancing the competing interests of privacy, the public interest to promoting the administration of justice by providing Morris with the information she requested, and the underlying values of freedom of expression and political speech.
The court emphasized that the posts involved political speech so it was particularly deserving of protection.
Another case similar to the one in front of the court and noted during this decision also involved anonymous online postings. Some considerations that were considered were:
-Assumption that postings would remain anonymous
-Whether wrongdoing could be proven by the posters
-Whether Morris tried to identify the poster and was not able to to do this
- Whether public interest favouring disclosure outweighed freedom of expression and the right to privacy
The courts ruled in favour of the posters protecting their identity.
It has been noted that Morris has indicated that she plans to appeal.
The rights of online discussions could be impacted in the future as the government has indicated it may pass legislation that requires disclosure without court involvement.
What do you think about this debate? We believe at Oakville Chit Chat that public figures (including those running for political positions, educational political positions and anyone who holds any type of public office using taxpayer dollars to pay their position and affecting citizens lives or their communities) should expect public discussion on their behaviour and/or actions. Discussions, whether they be in print, online, TV etc. must be allowed to continue. Our democratic system depends on freedom of speech. Having said that, however, we do encourage respectful and insightful discussions.
Let us know what you think.