Canadian Journal of Law and Technology


Defamation, freedom of expression, online anonymity, internet


As the internet continues to reach into the lives of people around the world, it facilitates interaction and the exchange of ideas between far-flung individuals and groups to an extent unprecedented in communications history. However, with this positive effect, the potential of the internet as a forum for defamation and other malfeasance has increased as well. Words online can be heard or read in places conventional forms of speech might never reach. As the United States Supreme Court put it, with the aid of the internet ". . . any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox." The internet's capacity to carry words afar greatly increases the damage possible from a single incident of defamatory speech.

An additional factor contributes to the potential of the internet as both a socially constructive "marketplace of ideas" and an ideal medium for the transmission of defamatory speech: the internet

is a world of anonymity. Users are often identified only by an email address or chat room pseudonym of their own choosing. These identities are simple to obtain under false pretences and without identification.