Can Blogger “Comments” Be Defamatory? Probably so……..

Can a comment on a blog post be defamatory?

One interesting question is whether a comment left on a blog post can be defamatory.  In Baglow v Smith,[1] the defendant wrote a comment on the plaintiff’s blog post suggesting that he was “one of the Taliban’s more vocal supporters”. On a motion for summary judgment brought by the defendants, the motion judge found that a comment on a blog post can be a “publication” for the purpose of a defamation claim.  However, the motion judge found that such a comment could not be defamatory because a comment on a blog post would not lower the plaintiff’s reputation.  The judge granted summary judgment dismissing the claim.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal for Ontario held that, although comments sections are known for lively debate where a “broad range of tolerance for hyperbolic language”[2] exists, the possibility that the words would tend to lower the plaintiff’s reputation could not be precluded.  The Court of Appeal held that whether the words were defamatory should be decided on the basis of witness and expert evidence,[3] and ordered the matter to proceed to trial.  The trial has not yet been heard. 

The decision in Baglow v Smith therefore seems to stand for the proposition – though not yet confirmed by a Canadian court following a trial – that a comment on a blog post can be defamatory in certain circumstances.

Bloggers and commenters should therefore be cautious when posting material on the internet, even in the often hyperbolic comments sections of blogs.  Conversely, if you or your business has been defamed in the comments section of a blog, you may have a claim against its author.

[1] 2012 ONCA 4027 (CanLII) [Baglow].

[2] Baglow, para 27.

[3] Baglow, para 36.