Room110.com, a self-proclaimed “Gossip Girl-type” website, bills itself as the next step in the evolution of campus social interaction. “Everyone talks about everyone, and now it can finally be done out in the open, in a fun, free environment,” a spokesman for the company said.
Fair enough. But that’s not what’s happening on the site. What is being posted is, by and large, pictures of scantily-clad young women in compromising situations with offensive comments as captions. There are a number of problems with this reality.
Free-speech laws in Canada are not what they are in the U.S. Under Canadian law, postings to a website that are offensive, demeaning and cruel can be met with strong legal action.
A website that promotes the idea that it’s okay to publish photos of young women coupled with comments that profess girls from that campus “will lick anything” or posting photos of girls at the gym hoping the poster “had a chance” is offensive to everyone.
As the distributor of this material, Room110.com is walking a thin line. And an option to request that material be removed in the site’s disclaimer doesn’t cut it. Under Canadian law, if any of these girls files a defamation action against the website, the assumption of innocence until proven guilty goes right out the window. The courts will automatically assume that the site posted the material knowing that it was defamatory, that damage was done to the individual’s reputation and it will be up to Room110.com to prove the contrary. It won’t be easy.
While it is not up to individual university administrations to question new websites and new ways that students choose to interact with them, those websites need to be wary of how their users are engaging with their products. In the case of Room110.com, the user base has exposed the site’s owners to legal action, along with themselves. And they should be listening to the trove of university administrators who are now calling for parts of the site to be removed.
Free speech is not a guaranteed right in Canada. And Room110.com should know that before they publish much of what is on their site.