Monday, October 11, 2010

The Slow Demise of Defamation and the Privacy Torts

Daniel Solove at Concurring Opinions has some interesting thoughts on the progressive demise of defamation and privacy tort cases in the United States:

Concurring Opinions - The Slow Demise of Defamation and the Privacy Torts

I think this turn of events is unfortunate. People used to resort to self-help (violence and duels) to vindicate their reputations. Civilized society replaced these methods with a more humane alternative — using the court system to resolve disputes. Sadly, that method is increasingly becoming too expensive and cumbersome for people to use.

Some commentators argue that today, people can more readily have the record corrected or improve their reputations by posting good things about themselves online. But it is hard to manipulate Google and other search engines to make the good information crowd out the bad. The problem is that bad information is often more interesting and juicy — and hence more popular. And popularity is the key to getting information to the top of search engine results. Many people have short attention spans and don’t care to dig to find out the boring truth or other facts about a person.

We need to have an outlet in civilized society for people to vindicate their reputations. We need to have some meaningful way to prevent defamation and invasion of privacy. Otherwise, people will spread all sorts of damaging rumors and gossip about each other online, and victims will return to self-help methods. That would be a big step backwards.

I don't have any Canadian stats at my fingertips, but I would hazard a guess that defamation is flourishing in Canada while the privacy torts are stuck in neutral.

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