THE abuse of Facebook as an online platform for virtual mischief must be stopped, a Master of the High Court has said.
Master Martha Alexander, in an assessment of compensation for defamation awarded to sports journalist Lasana Liburd, said, “The abuse of Facebook must be stopped. Indeed, persons who use online platforms for virtual mischief must be faced with the consequences of such ill-advised public airing of their malicious attacks,” she said.
Liburd, the creator of online magazine Wired868, was awarded $450,000 in compensation, with interest at a rate of 2.5 per cent per annum from May 25, 2018-May 7, 2019 and exemplary damages in the sum of $100,000.
He was also awarded $45,631.28 in legal costs The compensation is to be paid by former TT Football Association press officer Gordon Pierre, who was also social media manager at one point for the TT Pro League and a sports analyst for Flow Sports.
Pierre did not appear for the cost assessment hearing, nor was he represented at it.
In her ruling, Alexander said the matter was not about a single defamatory comment, or even one where an apology followed. She said the defamatory comments were, while not voluminous, vicious, repeated, targeted and in full online public glare, using the popular Facebook platform.
In his rants attacking Liburd, Pierre also tagged him and prominent football stakeholders, including government ministers, club presidents, footballers and sporting personalities, as well as people in other fields. .
“The tagging was systematic, widespread and targeted online friends and associates of the claimant so was particularly damning, as the claimant depended on the sporting fraternity of leads, information and referrals to keep his family run business buoyant,” Alexander said.
“A damaged reputation is often irreversible,” she stressed. “Defamation causing reputational injury would often be replayed, salivated over and cemented into society’s consciousness; lingering on long after the subject might have changed,” Alexander said.
She also said while the extent of an incident of online defamation could never be pinned down or known, she said neither could it be pulled back nor its spread stemmed.
“A defendant who would venture onto these online platforms and social media sites to defame another must be taken as having done so with the full understanding that his defamation was unstoppable, incurable and permanently capable of destroying a person’s reputation.”
Liburd gave evidence of the hurt and embarrassment to himself and his family. His common-law wife and mother also testified to the fear they felt because of the threats Pierre made.
Alexander said the court considered the injurious effects the defamation had on Liburd’s reputation as a journalist and on his failure to secure interviews, advertising and international contracts.
“The thought of his reputation percolating into the negative consciousness of the sports world would have caused its own peculiar brand of pain to this claimant.
When combined with the impact of the allegations on his family, this would have been a source of untold distress for the claimant,” she added.
She also found Pierre’s defamation “deliberately set out to destroy” Liburd’s home, relationships, business, integrity and reputation, while calculated to increase his own mileage in the sports journalism industry.