Will the Internet Become Less Litigious?

Regulating the Internet ought to be approached with extreme caution, says BC Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis. Introduced with great style by Stephen Burns of Bennett Jones LLP, David and his colleagues were speaking at the Insight Internet Law conference at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver this morning to a mixed audience of lawyers, government representatives, and non-profit and business people.

Loukidelis’ statement may be obvious, but he doesn’t simply approach it from the perspective of censorship. The Internet has been embraced by a Facebook generation so quickly that the law is struggling to define basic terms of reference.

Over time, our attitudes about our private information and how it is used may become even more nonchalant, suggests Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work. Defamation lawsuits against bloggers and other new media users have definitely already occurred. But will the future be so litigious?

Work says that when everyone has embarrassing photos or messages posted somewhere publicly available, the rational response to catching this kind of thing online will be… “who cares?”. Defamed by a blog that gets 20 hits a day? “Whatever” will be the logical next step. And the nightmare of employers doing background checks with checks on MySpace or Facebook will end just as soon as the employers realize they can’t hire anyone. Simple pragmatism may force us to adopt more flexible attitudes and social norms.

Not that there aren’t risks that companies need to be clear about with regard to the Internet. Even companies with flexible attitudes can come out swinging if defamation threatens their business, as lawyer Brian T.D. Bowman of Pitblado LLP noted in his presentation on online reputation management. Bowman cited a number of defamation and libel cases, such as a defendant who was ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages after posting disparaging remarks in a chat room of a website dedicated to investing in stocks.

We may become less litigious about the Internet in time… but we’re not quite there yet.