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Disclosure of Facebook “Friends” and Twitter “Followers” ordered in Libel Case

Posted On: January, 21 2015

In a recent decision released in March 2013, former university professor Denis Rancourt who is a defendant in a defamation claim by University of Ottawa Law professor Joanne St. Lewis, was ordered by the Court to disclose his Facebook “friends” and Twitters “followers” lists to the Plaintiff St. Lewis. 

Professor St. Lewis is a law professor at the University of Ottawa, specializing in race relations and social equity issues.  At the request of the University, Professor St. Lewis prepared a report in which she found there was no systemic racism at the university.  Rancourt published a blog post that was extremely critical of Professor St. Lewis’ findings, and in which he, quite unfortunately, used a racial slur against St. Lewis when criticizing her findings.

St. Lewis commenced a defamation claim against Rancourt and, during the litigation, her lawyer asked Rancourt to produce a list of the Facebook friends belonging to a Facebook group that Rancourt administered, and where he had posted the blog post that was the subject of the libel litigation.  A list of the defendants Twitter followers was also requested.

Rancourt refused to disclose his Facebook friends list on the ground that it was not relevant to the action.  St. Lewis disagreed, and sought production of the friends list, arguing that it was relevant to S. Lewis’ damages, so that she could assess how the community received Rancourt’s comments and the scope of the dissemination of his blog post.

The issue was brought before the Court and the judge agreed with St. Lewis that Rancourt was required to provide a list of his 402 Facebook friends who would have access to messages he had posted about S. Lewis and the defamation action on Facebook.  The Court also required Rancourt to produce a list of his Twitter followers, who would have seen Rancourt’s comments about St. Lewis.  The Court found that the Facebook friends and Twitter followers lists were relevant and went to the issue of the defendant’s malice and the potential harm and damage to St. Lewis’ reputation.

This decision illustrates the complexities associated with managing and producing electronic information and documents in civil litigation, and that courts will not hesitate in ordering litigation parties to disclose Facebook and other social media information where it is relevant to the issues under dispute.

 

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