Canadian Journal of Law and Technology


Kim von Arx


libel, slander, defamation, secondary orality


With the Internet, quickly becoming ubiquitous, the question arises: how does the Internet, and more specifi- cally computer-mediated-communication (CMC), affect people’s lives?

This paper will explore CMC in the Western world as an instance of Walter J. Ong’s notion of secondary orality. It will seek to determine whether the proposed shift in communicative and social consciousness elimi- nates the need for the common law distinction between libel and slander in the online communication environ- ment. The paper is divided into three parts. In the first section, the elements of primary orality and the shift of consciousness from a primary oral culture to a literate culture will be canvassed. In addition, it will explore the notion of secondary orality. The second section introduces defamation law and discusses the reasons for the distinction between libel and slander. In the con- cluding section, it will be argued that CMC is an instance of Ong’s secondary orality. This shift of con- sciousness offsets the need for a distinction between libel and slander. Consequently, it will be argued that the current labeling of CMC defamation as libel is not reflec- tive of society’s perception of online defamatory commu- nication, but instead, the new consciousness requires a new, yet uniform, treatment of defamation actions in CMC settings.