Thursday, March 12, 2015
I am amazed at all the childish behaviour of social media companies. It seems that the rules of good conduct does not apply to this supposedly superior medium versus traditional media.

I beg to differ, as I believe that social media is like that child that never grows up and acts like a spoiled little brat, but nobody has the guts to discipline them, as they will cry child abuse, well I do!

The recent social media scandals include a professional hockey player’s wife, who is demeaned on a micro-blogging site and then the defamatory quote is broadcast on a national TV sports station, and only through a threat to sue was any action made to ensure that the person’s reputation remained intact.

Then there is the sex scandal at a university, where a bunch of students started a social media group that demeaned women. What is a person to do to protect their loved ones from this online behaviour?

If these acts were done by a traditional media brand by one of their journalists there would be more of an uproar than what you have seen with these two scandals. They would be out of business and every politician in the world would be demanding justice, plus plenty of lawsuits.

This illustrates the double standard with social media, they claim to be media, but are not responsible for the content that they distribute. I believe that they should be held liable, as they should be treated like a traditional media publisher. Like the boy that cried wolf, they cry “Freedom of Speech,” as their calling card.

This issue is going through the courts and a precedent has been set based on the case of Baglow vs. Smith that is chronicled on the Canadian Tech Law Blog published by McCarthy Tétrault LLP, one of the top legal firms in Canada. Roland Hung wrote a posting titled “Defamation in the Blogosphere.”

The plaintiff in this case is Dr. Baglow, the owner and operator of an Internet blog site known as “Dawg’s Blawg” that posts left wing opinions and commentary on political and public interest issues. The defendants, Mark and Connie Fournier, moderate a message board on the internet called “Free Dominion,” a venue for the expression of conservative views.

On August 10, 2010 Roger Smith (the other defendant) posted a comment on this message board under the pseudonym Peter O’ Donnell that referred to the plaintiff, Dr. Baglow, as a supporter of the Taliban, a terrorist organization. Dr. Baglow objected to this comment as being defamatory and requested the Foruniers remove it from Free Dominion, which they refused to do.

Initially, the defendants won the first round based on their legal defense of “Fair Comment.” This was appealed and a judge ruled for a new trial. The key point of law in the case is, do the same rules apply to the Internet as they apply to traditional media.  

The defendants argued that their message board cannot be considered a publisher and the technology used was a neutral platform and the lawsuit was an unconstitutional violation of the guarantee of freedom of expression. They claimed they were not liable for the postings of hundreds of people on their site. Simply put, they claimed that as a provider of an interactive computer service they should not be liable for user-generated content from third parties.

Madame Justice Polowin disagreed with the Foruniers that a message board or forum is set up to provide content to their reader and both defendants the publisher and writer is jointly liable for defamation.

While the decision was favourable to the plaintiff, the courts are not clear how this will apply to social media, where at least hundreds of thousands of comments are posted each day and if the moderators are responsible for these. In other words new law is being created to address the issue, if social media should be treated like any distributor of content and be treated like a traditional publisher. In my opinion the answer is yes.

While defamation is a civil matter there are criminal acts being done on social media that should get swifter action by the courts as the police can charge somebody versus waiting for somebody to sue. The use of social media to recruit terrorists must be considered a hate crime as it supports the elimination of another race based on their religious views.  

Social media micro blogging sites are also a place where terrorist propaganda is broadcast to the world and must be stopped. Again, social media will cry ” Freedom of Speech” or “Censorship” as their wolf cry, as they are not liable for what people post on their site even though it is a hate crime.

I had a chat with a retired division commander of the Toronto Police, Paul Gottschalk, who was in charge of the cyber crime division and this is what he had to say on this issue.

In my view the argument can be made that in defence of offensive statements, those making the statements have equitable access to protection under the right to “freedom of speech.” Eventually any statement made or view expressed in social media will assume the same status as those in print or speech. Only through the application of law will these statements be deemed both offensive and libelous or within the realm of reasonableness. At present the law has not been clearly defined. While I believe that both criminal and civil transgressions should be viewed and responded to as if the grievance had been printed or spoken, the law has the difficult task to determine at which point in the conveyance of the message should the force of law apply.

Who is more culpable, the speaker or the messenger? In short, the law and social mores (which both constantly evolve) have not caught up to technology but I believe that eventually the cry of “wolf” will lose its strength. This argument of “freedom of speech” reminds me of another cry for freedom. A man in Texas was charged with punching another man in the face while both were walking along the street. The accused offered as defence that he was walking along the street swinging his arms like the blades on a helicopter. And he argued this was his right to do so! He said it was the victim’s fault for walking into his fist. The presiding judge stated the accused was correct in that he had the right to swing his arms freely but his right to swing his fist ended at the end of the victim’s nose! Likewise, I believe the law will soon rule that a persons right to “swing” their views will end when it strikes another person’s well being.

The social media companies’ inaction suggests that they support the promotion of defamation and hate crimes and in my opinion they are the distributor of that content and they should be held liable. This is called implied consent in legal terms, where your inaction suggests that you agree or what we call in the marketing world negative option marketing.

So if you have a social media account with one of these companies you are also supporting the company’s defamatory and criminal actions through implied consent too. So if you agree with this logic I would suggest you deactivate your account immediately unless you want to be associated with liars, cheaters and terrorists through implied consent.

Brian Burke the President of the Calgary Flames hockey club has courageously tried to stop this nonsense and started a court action to help protect him and his family from such attacks; you can see details of his case at this link.

To get political action on this issue please share this blog with the next hypocritical politician in the upcoming federal election when they reach out to you on social media and ask them if they support terrorism, defamation or hate crimes on social media as they try to get your vote.

BTW, the social media companies have already sold all your personal info through a big data personalized marketing program to the political parties without your consent as part of their election planning. Its time we take action against this and as a concerned parent, I want to protect our children now, as governments seem not to care because of the kid who cried wolf.
About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

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Lorene Shyba says:
Full of terrific information, Thanks!...
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