G20 ‘Officer Bubbles’ sues YouTube and users over cartoons
( THE TORONTO STAR) When he first saw a video of a Toronto constable threatening to arrest a G20 protester for blowing bubbles, one YouTube user was so livid, he couldn’t stop writing comments.
In fact, the man, who uses the alias “theforcebewithme,” can’t even remember writing the specific comment that now has him defending a $1.2 million defamation lawsuit launched by Toronto’s now notorious “Officer Bubbles.”
Const. Adam Josephs seeks to compel the Google-owned YouTube to reveal the identity of the person who created and posted the videos as well as any information it has on the 24 other users who made allegedly defamatory remarks.
The case highlights a collision between two worlds: The wild-west of social media, where people under aliases throw insults without pause versus the laws of the old media world, where people are held accountable for everything they write.
“I thought my opinion was my opinion in this country. I probably might not even post anymore,” said “theforcebewithme,” a 59-year-old government employee from New Brunswick who refused to give his real name.
Josephs’ lawsuit isn’t targeting the video that sparked his infamy, but a collection of eight cartoons posted to the popular video website that show a police officer resembling Josephs engaging in abusive acts of power.
The animations depict an officer named “A. Josephs” arresting a variety of people — from Santa Claus to U.S. President Barack Obama — as well as punching a news photographer.
In his statement of claim, Josephs calls the cartoons and several comments “devastatingly defamatory,” alleging they have brought him “ridicule, scandal and contempt both personally and as a member of the (Toronto Police Service).”
He claims the animations have also resulted in threats against him and his family.
“The reaction was way beyond anything that our client should have to deal with or should expect from carrying out his duties as a police officer to protect the public,” one of Josephs’ lawyers, James Zibarras, said.
The statement of claim alleges the comments included theforcebewithme’s jab: “If this steroid addicted Nazi has children, they must be sooooo embarrassed.”
The cartoons — and the account of the user who posted them — have already vanished from the site.
“A large part of what we’re trying to do is just get the stuff down,” Zibarras said. “I don’t know what further steps we’re going to take at this stage.”
Earlier this month, several of the defendants received notices from Google asking whether they wanted the website to disclose their identities.
Not surprisingly, it appears none did. Josephs’ lawyers haven’t yet received any of the YouTube commentators’ real identities.
However, online anonymity won’t necessarily protect people’s identities, as the website can be ordered by the court to provide users’ IP address and other information, said lawyer Tony Wong, a partner at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP who specializes in media and privacy law.
On Friday, a Manhattan judge gave Google 15 days to reveal any information it has on the identities of three cyberbullies who labeled a woman a “whore” on YouTube.
“I think there’s a real ignorance among the public about the risks of posting user comments or Twittering or blogging. The technology is new but the same laws of libel apply,” said Wong.
“Every time you post a comment on YouTube, a newspaper’s website, a blog, you can be sued for defamation by anyone whose reputation has been harmed by your comment.”
The original video of Const. Josephs became a symbol for what many viewed as heavy-handed policing during the G20 summit that brought world leaders to Toronto in June.
In the clip, the 52 Division officer sternly tells the woman protesting on Queen St. W: “If the bubble touches me, you’re going to be arrested for assault.”
One of the YouTube users being sued said that by launching the suit, Josephs is only reinforcing the image that he over-reacted to the bubble blowing.
“I think they’re trying to control the situation and, in reality, it’s just making it worse for the guy,” said the man, who also refused to give his real name.