Careful What You Say On Twitter- Apparently

A happy and sunny Friday afternoon to you all. I’ve been told by extremely reliable sources, and that’s plural, that a member of the Sports MSM has threatened legal action against another MSM for allegedly disparaging remarks made on Twitter.

Here’s what I am hearing:

Allegedly, Damein Cox of the Toronto Star has received a lawyers letter threatening legal action for comments he made on Twitter, (“tweeted”) on behalf of one Bruce Dowbiggin, who writes for the Globe and Mail.

So, to remind everyone, this goes back to the unfortunate Pat Burns not being dead story. Bruce Dowbiggin wrote a story in which he took Damien to task for reporting the alleged death. Dowbiggin wrote the story without talking to Damien first after takling to other reporters. Damien responded on twitter with the following:

“Funny how Bruce Dowbiggin takes a run at me for not consulting secondary source but never bothers to call me for comment on his hack job.”

“When people with no respect from anyone in the biz like Dowbiggin take cheap shots, it actually makes me feel better about entire episode.”

“Best part is Dowbiggin (William Houston Jr.) is loathed by Globe colleagues for inventing ridiculous rumours others then forced to chase.”

I don’t see any other tweets from Damien on the subject.

Damien was on with Michael Landsberg talking about the subject and did say:

“For Bruce Dowbiggin to lecture anyone on the ethics of journalism, is, a joke”

I called Tom Maloney the editor of the Globe and Mail sports section for a comment and he told me that this was not a Globe and Mail issue to contact Dowbiggin. So far Mr. Dowbiggin hasn’t responded to my email.

So for all of you at home who like the OJ type of legal drama, here is what Dowbiggin, will have to be able to prove:

“Liability for defamation is pertinent to numerous Internet contexts. The internet user would be found liable for defamatory material they produced directly eg. by posting a web page containing defamatory remarks, or by the actions of its employees or agents. Examples in the Internet context are abundant and liability for defamatory statements contained within a web site for the hosting Internet Service Provider(ISP) will be examined. The ISP allows the computer owner to communicate with a multitude of other computers which form the Internet via the telephone – and recently cable, wireless cable and satellite – lines.

For a finding of liability for the tort of defamation in Canadian realspace and then as applied to Cyberspace, three elements must be proven. First, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defamatory charge was published; this does not mean that the defamation must have been printed and distributed, rather it is sufficient that the statements have been communicated to a person other than the plaintiff. Second, the plaintiff must establish that the defamation expressly, or by reasonable implication, referred to him/herself. Third, the materials must have been false and, in the eyes of a reasonable person, discrediting to the plaintiff.(13)

As noted by Dietrich, it is not necessary for the plaintiff to prove that the defendant intended to defame. Nor must it be proven that the defendant did lower the plaintiff’s reputation in the minds of persons accessing the materials and that the plaintiff actually suffered any damages from the defamatory materials.(14) The onus lies with the defendant. As the threshold for what is defamatory is low, the majority of the courts time is spent assessing whether the defendant has one of the defences available.

In Cyberspace, much like realspace, the courts will assume that the materials were intended to defame the plaintiff and that the plaintiff has suffered damages. However, looking at Canada under the example of the Ontario Libel and Slander Act the requirement to prove damages in slander cases has been removed in certain situations. These include cases which call into question the reputation of a person in relation to their office, profession, calling, trade or business.(15) If it could be proven that B refused to enter into a contract with A as a result of a slanderous statement made by C, under Canadian law, A would be compensated for the loss of contract and reputation. A would; however, have to prove it was C’s intention to attack his/her business reputation. Otherwise, damages would be awarded outright. The Ontario Libel and Slander Act does not completely remove the requirement to prove damage, in all slander cases.(16) ”

More legalese can be found here

This will be a fascinating one to watch. I am not sure how much will be played out in public. The good news is that this stuff always seems to leak out. I am quite surprised that one journalist would seek legal action against another. It’s funny how the media often writes about the “code” in sports, I guess I just assumed it followed to the fraternity of those who covered the games too. It seems to me that this will be difficult for Dowbiggin to prove. Only time will tell.

I will have some legal comments from a few legal experts a little later.



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Raptors Devotee
October 8, 2010 5:19 pm

This is nuts. Seriously. Part of the fun and enjoyment of Twitter is the banter that goes on. If you don’t have a thick skin and can’t take some occasional heat then we don’t want you on here. I can’t believe that I am defending Damian Cox, as I unfollowed him when he made some ridiculous tweets on some topic I now forget, but even so, Dowbiggen is way off base here IMO.

Twitter in the current 140 character format is designed to be used for healthy debates and disagreements. If I was Cox I would take that lawyer’s letter and use it exactly as Brian Burke suggested to do with The Toronto Sun – that is if you own a puppy or a parakeet.

Milburn Drysdale
October 8, 2010 5:26 pm

GREAT I hope Cox that arrogant S.O.B. gets what is coming to him. And, I am not alone

October 8, 2010 10:04 pm

If Dowbiggin really did have a lawyer send Cox, or anyone for that matter, a legal threat over something said on Twitter – then he’s a complete bitch who should probably just stay off the Internet entirely.

October 8, 2010 11:13 pm

It always amazes me that media folks can slice and dice athletes and management at will because they believe that is thier right, but as soon as someone criticizes them they get their panties in a knot! Damian & Bruce understand this, nobody cares. You two are really not that important!

October 9, 2010 12:03 am

Full disclosure – I think Cox is an idiot who is more concerned about stirring the pot and being controversial than journalism.

I don’t care one way about Dowbiggin or the other.

Cox has had an axe to grind against Dowbiggin and a google search will raise that quickly. However, why are Cox’s tweets held to a lower standard than his writings for the Star? Does he have the balls to write about Dowbiggin’s respectability and morals in an actual article for the Star? At least Dowbiggin made his comments in a published article that the Globe and Mail found acceptable. If Cox had an issue with that, he can sue Dowbiggin for alleged damages, bruising his ego, whatever… However, if Cox’s tweets are truly acceptable, then he should publish the same claims in an article in his employer’s newspaper. To tweet these allegations and then hide behind the “banter” of Twitter really undermines his credibility as a journalist. There are standards and they should apply to all vehicles, whether emerging or established.

Look at it this way – if Cox tweeted “Burke is a joke and a hack who has no respect from any of his peers in the NHL”, how do you think the Fighting Irishman would respond? Would everyone suddenly be flocking to Cox’s defence claiming that everything is fine because it’s on Twitter? Hiding behind the medium “Twitter” is a cop out excuse and I don’t think that even Cox would use that as a defence because it is ludicrous.

October 9, 2010 7:06 pm

Wow, couldn’t have happened to two better people. Each has their own air of arrogance. All this can do is make both look even pettier. Good on them. Great scoop tsp.

October 18, 2010 2:00 pm

If he has any sense, I would expect an apology to be fothcoming from Damien Cox fairly soon.

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