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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Ontario lawyer offering free representation for those claiming defamation by Facebook page, website

This article originally appeared on the website of CBC News. |

A lawyer in northwestern Ontario says he'll represent people - for free - who believe they have been defamed by a Facebook group and website operating out of Thunder Bay.

Douglas Judson made the offer on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, after a photo of a woman was posted to the sites, linking her to child pornography charges. The woman in the photo was not the same person charged.

Judson said he's been inundated with calls from people who say they've been personally affected by the site.

"I've heard from individuals who are referenced in passing to a news report that appears on a website like this, and suddenly they have employment consequences, even though they are not a person who is facing any charges," he said.

"They simply had a last name, or they are tagged in a photo that was used for an article, and therefore there's an assumption that there's a connection there. That's the sort of standard that I don't think would past muster, for example at your publication." 

Judson said the issue is the public shares many of the stories purported to be true, but are not necessarily fact-checked.

"Do all of those concerns rise to the level of defamation? No, but they all do reflect a sense of harm, or loss, or unfair treatment in how these pages engage in their reporting."

Judson said local news organizations, be it broadcast or print, do not cover courts like they used to. While bloggers or citizen journalists may attempt to fill the gap, how the material is re-presented to the public may be quite different from the standards of a traditional publication.

"The issue though is that at this point in our history, we've developed a very complex web of expectations and norms and laws, for how we report on these things. Because we see value in protecting people, protecting their public image, especially when the accusations that have been brought forward in the court are not yet proven."

"So, I think that we need to have a bigger discussion as a society around what the bounds of citizen journalism looks like, and how we control that. I think some of the issues with how the concerned citizens site reports its information for example, is that it doesn't use much of a barometer of journalistic or editorial standards."

"It also tends to divorce its reporting from the process. So, we often see reports from bail court, or appearance court, but we never see the reports about dispositions. So, the actual proven and entered convictions."

CBC News contacted the administrators of the The Real Concerned Citizens Facebook page, as well as the website, but did not receive a response.

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