Earlier in December, I posted a link to an article I wrote for Chinese News Group which was translated into Chinese. The following is the full article in English.
According to Tencent, China’s biggest social network and online entertainment company, its flagship live chat, calling and social media application is used by over a billion people worldwide. In Canada, the app is particularly popular within Asian communities.
Among other features, the app permits its users to set-up or join a group chat where users can have semi-private conversations or broadcast messages to the group. Like other social media and microblogging sites and applications, WeChat has become littered with users who hide behind their aliases and post rumours, false stories and even defamatory statements about other people on the application. Recent Ontario court decisions have confirmed that posting a defamatory statement on a micro-blog, even if subsequently deleted can be seen as “publishing”, a necessary component to establishing defamation.
The concern is that since most defamers are anonymous (only using their usernames), it’s difficult to do anything about the defamation even if you wanted to.
WeChat requires users to insert their mobile number and e-mail address for verification purposes. Therefore, WeChat would be in a good position to identify the person behind a username who posted a defamatory statement. WeChat’s Terms of Service outlines its Acceptable Use Policy which specifically prohibits defamatory or other objectionable statements to be made using the application. The Terms also encourage users to advise WeChat of users who breach their Terms. However, even if you were able to convince WeChat to remove a defamatory statement, it does not reverse the damage that is likely already done.
So what should you do?
Users who believe they have been defamed should consider their options, their likelihood of success and their tolerance for “putting up the fight”. At a minimum, you should preserve evidence of the defamatory statement – take a screenshot of the statement attributed to the username.
If the source is clearly not credible and you do not believe that it has damaged your reputation, you may wish to consider ignoring the statement, posting a refuting statement and being more selective of your WeChat partners.
If this is not a sufficient solution and you cannot identify the defamer, you may wish to consider starting a law suit against a “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” and seeking a court order compelling WeChat to reveal the identity of the defamer.
Recent court decisions suggest that if Ontario courts believe that the defamation occurred in Ontario and affected the reputation of an Ontario person, then Ontario courts have a “real and substantial connection” to the matter at hand and, as such, can have jurisdiction over the matter.
However, even if a court order in Ontario is issued against WeChat to compel WeChat to reveal the identity of the anonymous defamer, the plaintiff would have to go through the process of enforcing this order against WeChat in Hong Kong which can be a lengthy process as well.
In addition to anonymous online defamation, in the past year Canadian WeChat users have been victims of blackmailing, “credit-for-sex” and other scams. Most notably, male students would be approached on WeChat by what appears to be attractive female students. After conversation and perhaps exchanging photographs, the scammer tells the male that she will offer “prostitution services” for a fee. When the male agrees, the scammer requests that the male transfer gift cards to the scammer by providing the pin numbers and then either stops communicating with the male or, in some extreme cases, blackmails the male user for additional credit.
Perhaps the attachment of a user’s mobile phone number and the threat of permanent banishment from the service will curb some of these anonymous users from these types of illegal and immoral activities. In the meantime, users of WeChat and other social media applications should exercise caution, good judgment and attempt to only interact with known people or people who they can identify.