[authors: Tim Banks
and Saba Zia
Social media is great “word of mouth” advertising when things go right. It can also be a nightmare in damage control when things go wrong. Sometimes the unsatisfied customer just lets it rip fairly or unfairly.
In a recent Ontario case, 2964376 Canada Inc. (Ameublement Prestige Furniture) v. Bisaillon, a retailer was awarded Cdn. $15,000 in damages for defamation after the daughter of an unsatisfied customer began an e-mail campaign. Although the case deals with e-mail, there is no reason why it would not apply to social media.
The facts of the alleged unsatisfactory customer service were not unusual. The customer had purchased a dining room table. It was damaged. There were attempts to fix it. The company offered to rebuild the table. The customer wanted a refund. When the customer didn’t get the refund, the customer’s daughter began an email campaign.
The daughter e-mailed 38 of her contacts using her work address. She inserted a logo that looked like the retailer’s and asked that the recipients to forward the email along to others. The email stated that the company was “an untrustworthy company and I strongly advise you to think twice before putting your trust and money in their hands!” and “We are all consumers and deserve to be made aware of deceitful companies who do not honour their Consumer’s Guarantee. BUYERS BEWARE!”
The Ontario court concluded that the daughter had gone too far and awarded the retailer Cdn. $15,000. E-mailing 38 people and asking them to pass it along constituted publication. Accusing the company of being untrustworthy and deceitful would clearly affect its reputation, character and business. The defence of fair comment was not available. The defamatory statements were not based on fact (at least not all of the available facts) and, in any event, the statements were based on malice. She openly stated that she wanted revenge.
Although there are other means for managing a company’s reputation, this recent case suggests that courts will take seriously an action in defamation as a last resort for dealing with a customer who goes too far.