A wealthy Canadian businessman dragged into the ridiculous “pizzagate” conspiracy theory — thanks to his ties to the Clinton Foundation — is suing Twitter for harming his reputation. The lawsuit filed by Frank Giustra doesn’t target the users posting these allegedly defamatory statements, but rather Twitter itself… as though Twitter were the publisher of the tweets, rather than just the platform carrying them.
Mr. Giustra’s civil claim argues that tweets that began around February, 2015, “vilified the plaintiff for political purposes in relation to the 2016 United States election,” attempting to discredit Mr. Giustra over his charitable work supporting the Clinton Foundation.
The five-page claim includes an appendix with the text of dozens of “false, defamatory, abusive and threatening tweets,” many of which, the claim reads, “Twitter has neglected or refused to remove.” Many tweets associate Mr. Giustra with the widely discredited “pizzagate” conspiracy theory that connected then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to a fictitious child-sex ring.
This sounds like the basis for some Canadian version of negligence, but a closer look at the claims shows Giustra is actually claiming Twitter itself is defaming and attacking him.
“The targeted attack on the plaintiff was part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit the plaintiff in part because of his charitable and philanthropic work in support of the Clinton Foundation,” the claim states. “Twitter began publishing a number of defamatory and malicious statements regarding the plaintiff.”
Twitter also published threatening posts, the court documents state, including one that specified Giustra should be killed with “2 bullets to the back of his head.”
From this, it’s clear Giustra is trying to hold Twitter directly responsible for users’ tweets. This is being done despite Twitter taking action to remove some of the tweets Giustra reported to Twitter. This legal attack gets everything backwards, but presumably it won’t matter because it’s been filed in Canada, rather than in the United States.
Thanks to the Equustek decision — one that said Canadian court injunctions against American tech companies should be enforced worldwide — social media companies are much more inviting targets for aggrieved Canadians. Giustra can claim Twitter published these statements because Canadian courts are more than willing to erase the line between third parties and the platforms hosting user-generated content. If a Canadian ruling applies everywhere, Section 230 immunity is simply ignored.
Giustra and his legal representation have admitted Twitter isn’t the right target for this lawsuit — just the most convenient one.
Taking action against the dozens of individual users, Mr. [Frank] Kozak said, would require “endless litigation,” and not address future defamatory tweets. As such, he said, Mr. Giustra decided to take action against Twitter itself.
Will the court side with a plaintiff taking shortcuts to justice? Who the fuck knows? According to the recently-signed but not-yet-ratified NAFTA replacement, the USMCA, Canada is required to provide Section 230-like safe harbors to internet sites, but is permitted to do so via “application of existing legal doctrines as applied through judicial decisions” rather than the creation of new laws — but whether that will sway the court, or if a finding of liability here will simply signal that Canada does need new laws to comply with the agreement, remains to be seen.
And it will put Twitter in the impossible position of policing content when it doesn’t even know what exactly it’s looking for. Giustra also wants a permanent injunction blocking any tweets containing potential defamation of him or his work. How Twitter is supposed to accomplish this is anyone’s guess, but it won’t be Giustra or the court burdened with the logistical details.
Giustra’s lawyer claims this lawsuit isn’t intended to “censor thoughts, ideas, or expressions.” But it’s hard to see how targeting Twitter for things users posted will result in anything else.
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