22 November 2010

The Revenge of Facebook, Part I

I've often thought of writing about the modern mischief Facebook seems to egg on, but it's always seemed too easy a target. The notion of being "unfriended" just isn't as funny as it used to be. And then along comes Nesbitt v. Neufeld, a November 2010 decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and I am reminded that there are still lessons to be learned.

Dr. Nesbitt and Ms. Neufeld had been engaged it what the judge described as "protracted family court litigation" and resulted in Ms. Neufeld having primary care of the child, with Dr. Nesbitt having supervised access. I'm sure the litigation rankled. In any event the recently-published decision of Mr. Justice Crawford concerns not the family law litigation but an action in which Ms. Neufeld sought damages for defamation and breach of privacy from Dr. Nesbitt.

Ms. Neufeld's complaints centred around a variety of publications the court found to be authored by Dr. Nesbitt, including the "Wicked Wendy Neufeld" website (some related material can still be found on blogspot) featuring material from the family law litigation and some of her private communications, and a Facebook page titled "Wendy Neufeld Support Group" containing hurtful and sarcastic comments. To quote the judge, "that Dr. Nesbitt would dress his vitriol in such shabby clothing shows again a complete lack of social awareness."

Anyhow, the point here is that we as a society are well past the posting of anonymous pages on telephone poles. We live in the internet age where the scurrilous vituperations of an aggrieved individual are spewed across the globe for all to read in a second, and, just as the audience is massive, all that's required to discover it is a single ego-search. Hit PRINT and the broadcast is there to be attached to your next affidavit as Exhibit "A". Again, here's Mr. Justice Crawford:
"In this age of instantaneous broadcast to an innumerable number of people over the Internet, courts have acknowledged the aggravating factor this can have in determining whether the conduct at issue is defamatory and if so what the quantum of an award of damages should be."
The judge decided that Dr. Nesbitt had taken his custody fight with Ms. Neufeld "far outside the ordinary confines of the family court litigation," and awarded damages of $40,000 to Ms. Neufeld for breach of privacy and defamation, plus her special costs of the litigation on the basis that Dr. Nesbitt's conduct was "deserving of the Court's reproof."

I have to admit that I see things like this fairly frequently in my practice, sometimes as a result of wounded feelings, but sometimes and far worse as a result of a desire for revenge or retaliation. I won't moralize and tsk-tsk about the stupidity of such websites, blogs and Facebook pages; that ought to be obvious. Just remember that it's as easy to find and print these things as it is to post them, and I guarantee that they will find their way into an affidavit at the most inconvenient time possible.