Free speech or cybercrime?

How would this have gone differently in a country with the right to peaceful and honest communication?

First, sharing an experience with a food ingredient and asking others to share theirs is peaceful conduct. It is not threatening, it is not inciting violence, and assuming there are no other laws in place prohibiting the reviews of cans of tomato puree, it is not criminal conduct.

Second, opinions are a category of information that we assume are honest until proven otherwise (beyond a reasonable doubt, in court). Therefore, we have a lot of freedom to peacefully share opinions about ideas and topics that are controversial.

The government is corrupt, aliens have been living among us, planet Earth is flat, a brand of tomato puree is too sweet, someone is a liar, or one plus one is three — all of these are opinions that can be shared without having to provide any evidence and without fear of prosecution in a country with the right to peaceful and honest communication.

In casual conversation, everything that someone says must be assumed to be opinion, and claims of fact must be explicit. In other settings such as court testimony, affidavits, and statements by public officials, the situation is reversed — everything that is said must be assumed to be a claim of fact unless explicitly labeled as opinion. For example, if a citizen says “the judge is corrupt” it is an opinion; if a public official says “the judge is corrupt” that is a claim of fact.

In a country with the right to peaceful and honest communication, the definition of defamation needs to be narrowed to claims of fact, not mere opinion. For example, if a citizen says “the judge is corrupt” it is an opinion and therefore not defamation; if a citizen says “the judge is corrupt, I have evidence” or “the judge is corrupt, and that is a fact” or “the judge accepted a bribe” then it is a claim of fact, and if it’s a false claim then it’s defamation. But if the claim is proven to be true then obviously it is not defamation.

Third, an opinion about a product must not be considered as defamation against the person who made it. Sharing an opinion that a brand of tomato puree is too sweet doesn’t make any claim at all about the people who made it, and is not defamation. Even the later comment about killing people is merely an opinion, especially when taken in the context of the conversation.

Finally, it’s unbelievable that the company actually lost business after that review — wouldn’t their other customers already know what it tastes like? If they like it they’d keep buying it. Either way, that statement included two claims of fact: first, we lost business; second, we lost business because you wrote that review. Even if the company’s owner can prove these claims, they would only be an unfortunate truth. This obviously isn’t a case of defamation or cybercrime.

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