Online commenting and the global watercooler

Watch what you write online; the words can come back to you in costly ways

There is no shortage of ways to shoot yourself in the foot these days. It used to be that water cooler talk at work was as risky as you could get when it came to getting in trouble with your words, like if you badmouthed the boss or spoke ill of the human resources guy. If you saw something in the newspaper that you disagreed with, you had to take the time to sit down, write a letter and drop it off at the office. That time was often the key in allowing you to stop and think about what you were going to write.

Today, if you read something online that makes you angry, frustrated, happy or upset, there is no impediment to force a sober second thought. Literally seconds after you read a post, comment or article online, you can respond for the entire Internet kingdom to see. And even if you change your mind and delete your comment, there’s a good chance a lot of people have already read it and may even have taken a screen shot of it. The words can last forever.

It is certainly cathartic to get it all out. But what was once the wild west of online commenting is quickly being turned into a law-filled territory.

For the Honourable Mr. Justice G. C. Weatherill, the right of free speech did not trump the right to accuracy in online commenting. Judge Weatherill ruled in the case of Gerry Taft vs. Devin Kazakoff last week in Cranbrook’s Supreme Court of British Columbia (see related story page 1). In his reasons for awarding of special costs, Weatherill stated, “The defendant’s attempts to prove the plaintiff was guilty of criminal conduct as justification for the use of the words “convicted” and “convicted felons” was, in my view, inexcusable and is deserving of censure and rebuke.”

The time of freely commenting online is gone. Take heed, before you publish anything, that you’re sure of what you’re going to say and the accuracy of the statements. Or you might be scooping out $75,000 from your own pocket next. The water cooler has turned global.