Suppose there is someone only known by an avatar. Suppose no public information is available as to who is the real person behind the avatar.

My question is whether there is any case-law about whether the unknown real person can be defamed by writing something nasty about the avatar.

Please note that I am not asking about the far more common situation of being defamed by an anonymous person. In my question it is the anonymous person who may or may not be defamed.

1 Answer 1


I am aware of no case raising this fact pattern. However, much has been said about defamation where the plaintiff is not explicitly identified.

To be successful in defamation, the plaintiff must show that the published expression "would tend to lower the plaintiff's reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person" and that the published expression "in fact referred to the plaintiff" (Grant v. Torstar, 2009 SCC 61 at para. 28).

When the plaintiff is not named, the question is whether there is evidence from which an "ordinary sensible person would draw the inference that the words referred to the plaintiff." That evidence must "connect the [defamation] with the plaintiff." The plaintiff needs to show that it would be reasonable for a "hypothetical sensible reader who knew the special facts" to infer that the impugned expression referred to the plaintiff and that these special facts/circumstances were known in the community. See S.G. v. J.C., 2001 CanLII 3041 (Ont. C.A.) at para. 24; Arnott v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (1953), [1954] 1 D.L.R. 529 (Sask. C.A.) at para. 70).

For an argument that it should be possible for the person behind an avatar to sue for damage to the avatar's reputation, see Mark Lemley & Eugene Volokh, "Law, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality" (2018) 166:5 U. Penn. L. Rev 1051. That article is based in U.S. law, but I don't see their argument on this point to be limited to that context, given that is largely an argument from policy and first principles, rather than one based in legal doctrine.

  • Thanks, that'd very helpful. Is it true that the person behind the avatar would need to reveal themself in order to sue? In that case, the person behind the avatar would be intentionally contributing to the defamation, and wouldn't that weaken their case? (My legal knowledge is approximately nil.) Mar 27 at 0:07
  • @BrendanMcKay anyone who sues for defamation is subject to the Streisand effect and potentially increases the damage. This does not, however, affect the case, that is, the court ignores that effect.
    – Dale M
    Mar 27 at 10:56
  • @DaleM Right, defamation can be amplified by publicising it, such as by filing suit. But the question is about whether there was defamation at all in the first place, which is not quite the same. Take an extreme example: person A says "I know someone who murdered their mother", person B says "A was referring to me". Now B's reputation is at stake, but was it A or B who is responsible for that? Mar 28 at 4:21
  • @BrendanMcKay what a good question. You should ask it.
    – Dale M
    Mar 28 at 4:24

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