A Canadian court has ordered a disgruntled bride to pay C$115,000 (£65,000) in damages for defaming a now-ruined photography business with a torrent of negative online reviews.
At a British Columbian Supreme Court, Justice Gordon Weatherill found that Emily Liao dedicated herself to destroying Kitty Chan’s business, Amara Wedding, after receiving a set of what she claimed were poor quality proofs of pre-wedding shots.
Liao and her now husband signed a C$6,064.80 (£3,432) contract with Chan in 2015, but they stopped payment on a balance owed to the photography firm after receiving the early snaps.
Despite this, as per the contract, Amara Wedding still provided the makeup, hairdressing, photography, flower and master of ceremony services for their wedding.
Subsequently, Chan informed the couple that if they failed to pay the balance owed, the photos would not be processed. They refused and Chan offered to refund them some of what they had already paid and to cancel their contract. They rejected this and took Chan to a small claims court in August 2015, alleging breach of contract. Chan counterclaimed for the balance owed, the case was dismissed in October 2016 and Chan won her counterclaim.
It was then that Liao began her vindictive smear campaign online, posting disparaging comments on English and Chinese language social media sites, blogs and forums, including Facebook, VanPeople, Blogger, Wechat and Weibo. The posts went viral, with devastating consequences for Amara Wedding.
Chan said: “In the Chinese community, a lot of businesses rely on word of mouth. So when they found out we were a so-called ‘scam shop’. All the readers were shocked too.”
Weatherill stated in his February 22 ruling that Liao “failed to prove that her displeasure was justified”.
He asserted that her online comments implied that Amara Wedding “was a major scam shop and deceitful photography mill business engaged in extortion, dishonesty, unfair practices, bait and switch and other dirty tactics, lies to its customers who it tricks and coerces to enter into contracts which it breaches and attempts to falsify, had provided raw unfinished photographs under the guise of the finished product, had destroyed evidence, used a secret, fictional identity and had threatened the defendants.”
Weatherill rejected Liao’s defence of fair comment, describing her actions as malicious.
He said: “She set upon a determined campaign to discredit and harm the plaintiff’s business by broadcasting her dissatisfaction over the internet, in English and Chinese, in what can only be described as an egregious, accusatory and vitriolic manner.”
Weatherhill added that there was “no coincidence” Amara Wedding began to suffer financially after Liao’s online campaign. The owners closed the business in January 2017.
Summing up, Weatherill said: “This case is an example of the dangers of using the internet to publish information without proper regard for its accuracy.
“Emily, and others who think it is acceptable to use the internet as a vehicle to vent their frustrations, must be given the message that there will be consequences if their publications are defamatory.”
Chan said: “I want to prove to people that they have to face any consequences when they say something on the internet. We know how bad it could be when a rumour is spreading on the internet, but I have never thought this will happen to me.”