Cyber-bullying by engaging in social media attacks can mean paying significant damages to the target of the vitriol.
In a recent Canadian case, a former husband engaged in a lengthy campaign of cyber-bullying against his former spouse, primarily to intimidate her in their custody proceeding in Family Court.
The Court said, “This campaign took the form of a long series of venomous Facebook postings”.
The father posted very nasty comments about his former spouse and flouted the law, in the sense that he openly declared online that he was beyond the reach of the law - a very serious mistake by him.
The Court prohibited the husband and his new partner from any further cyber-bullying, ordered them to take down the posts or disable access to them and prohibited them from communicating with the targeted mother.
The Court also noted the husband's conduct “harmed Ms. Candelora’s well-being, both mental and physical,” given her evidence that they caused her psychological stress that affected her ability to work and exacerbated a pre-existing medical condition.
The Court concluded that the impact on the mother, while serious, was not as dire as some other cases presented to the Court during the proceeding. Rather, the mother was mature, was not “unusually vulnerable” to cyber-bullying and does not reside near the father (they actually resided in separate provinces). .
The Court hammered the father with general damages of $50,000, $20,000 in aggravated damages and, for good measure, added on another $15,000 in punitive damages.
“Punitive damages are warranted in order to occasion respect for the justice system,” the Court ruled.
“One repeated aspect of the respondents’ postings was their assertion that they were beyond the reach of the courts and their disregard for court orders. This is a denunciatory, non-compensatory purpose and calls for a distinct punitive award.”
While this case was decided in Nova Scotia, it is likely a similar result could have been reached in Ontario, based on Ontario's current law regarding defamation and intrusion upon seclusion (i.e., breach of privacy).
Candelora v. Feser, 2019 NSSC 370 (CanLII)