How a Woman Uses an Obscure Legal Tool to Expose Online Trolls in Court
January 2023 - 6 min read
When a woman turned to leaders at The Meeting House megachurch in southern Ontario with allegations that her former pastor had sexually abused her, the ensuing investigation forced the pastor to resign and resulted in a reckoning that led to a drop in church attendance.
But for the woman who took the name Hagar in the media – her identity has been kept secret by the Church and is now protected by a publication ban – another painful saga was about to begin. Some of the pastor’s followers began threatening to reveal their identities, a court filing said. Soon someone posted a YouTube video sharing Hagar’s real name, and pseudonymous accounts surfaced on multiple online platforms threatening to out them.
“The trial of what was once my church, my sanctuary and my safety is becoming unbearable,” said Hagar, who took her pseudonym from a female slave mentioned in the Bible, in an affidavit filed with the Ontario Supreme Court last summer was submitted.
What followed in court would demonstrate the power of a somewhat obscure legal tool to defend against defamation and harassment on digital platforms in Canada. Hagar and her attorney successfully used a so-called “Norwich Order” to force YouTube, Facebook and Reddit to share potentially identifying details behind the accounts. These could soon allow her to confront the account holders with further legal action.
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