Vancouver exploded the night the Canucks lost game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Disgruntled fans looted downtown stores and set cars aflame. For the most part, Vancouverites were embarrassed by the violence; most were eager to identify and prosecute what became known as a “small group” of rabble-rousers who were “in no way indicative of the city as a whole.”
And because of those citizen identification efforts, online defamation issues are now at the forefront. Why? Well, instigator-identification Facebook pages appeared overnight. But just as sound-bytes can be manipulated, so can snapshots.
The Case Of The Innocent Vancouver Rioter: And Potential Online Defamation Mess
Pictures are worth a thousand words, but what happens when the story is wildly inaccurate? Vancouver Canucks fan, Bert Easterbrook, is dealing with such a case of mistaken photo assumption. Thanks to a snap-shot taken in the wake of his team’s June Stanley Cup loss, Easterbrook allegedly earned the reputation of “rioter”.
But Bert wasn’t the jerk people assumed he was. Yes, a photo, which appeared online, showed Easterbrook’s fist making contact with another man’s face; the background featured a truck with smoke billowing from the windows. What the picture didn’t reveal, however, was that Easterbrook threw a punch to prevent the truck from being set on fire.
In other words, Bert was one of the good guys.
He sustained burns and bruises from police batons. And yes, video evidence surfaced to corroborate Easterbrook’s assertions – but not before his good name, reputation and feelings suffered a few blows.
The Case Of The Online Vigilante (Who Doesn’t Seem Afraid Of Online Defamation Lawsuits)
Dave Teixeira is another Canucks fan deeply involved in the after-riot identification process. But unlike Easterbrook, Teixeira wasn’t caught in compromising Vancouver riot snap-shots. Instead, he’s the creator of canucksriot2011.com – a website dedicated to hosting photo galleries of post-game-seven violence.
People can post photos to canucksriot2011.com and anyone can comment – or privately email Teixeira – if they can identify wrongdoers. Teixeira then turns good information over to authorities.
A non-violent 21st Century vigilante, Teixeira is unabashed in his beliefs. During a recent interview with “The Straight” he opined:
“The idiots, as I would call them, are the ones who impeded the police from the arrests by just being there. I think the criminal activity speaks for itself. If the police said to you, ‘Leave the riot zone,’ and you didn’t…you are a criminal now. I also call people ‘terrorists’. If you lit a police car on fire, you are a terrorist. You assaulted innocent people? You are a terrorist.”
While Teixeira’s motives are genuine, his no-holds-barred approach may land him in some legal trouble if he’s not careful.
Unsolicited Advice From An Online Defamation Lawyer
From Wales to Washington, online defamation is on the rise. The Internet allows for anonymity, which often emboldens folks itching to express opinions. But problems arise when judgments are made before learning the facts.
Alan McConchie, a North Vancouver-based lawyer, succinctly explained to the “The Straight” that engaging in “photo assumption” leads to cyberlibel. I have to agree with McConchie – especially when law enforcement is involved. If you don’t know the tale behind a snap-shot, it’s best to refrain from passing public judgment.
It’s also important to remember that authorities are often more tech-savvy than we give them credit. Nowadays, it isn’t difficult to determine the source of an anonymous online comment. Basically, when it comes to commenting, it’s best to follow the adage and not say anything unless it’s nice – that is, of course, you don’t want to end up embroiled in an online defamation legal tussle.
Aaron Kelly is an Internet lawyer that focuses on online defamation issues in the United States, Canada and the European Union. If you’ve got an online reputation issue, contact Kelly / Warner Law today to make it go away.