British Columbia’s top court will take on a defamation lawsuit against Twitter Inc. from one of the province’s wealthiest businessmen after the social-media company failed to take the case to California, where it would have no liability in such a case.
Mining and entertainment magnate Frank Giustra filed a civil suit against Twitter at the Supreme Court of British Columbia in April, 2019, alleging damages to his business and philanthropic relationships because of dozens of “false, defamatory, abusive and threatening tweets” that “Twitter has neglected or refused to remove.”
Some alleged an involvement in the widely discredited “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that connected the Clinton family, whose charitable foundation has partnered with Mr. Giustra, to a fictitious child-sex ring.
A decision released by Justice Elliot Myers Thursday said that Twitter had asked for the case to be heard in California, where it is headquartered, and where Mr. Giustra, the founder of Lionsgate Entertainment, is connected with several entertainment businesses. State and federal law there would have left Twitter with no liability for defamation. Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, for example, grants platforms immunity from claims about the content of users’ posts.
Twitter will now need to argue in B.C. that it’s not responsible for the allegedly defamatory tweets.
Social media’s role in promoting defamatory, hateful and even violent speech has come under greater scrutiny in the nearly two years since the claim was filed. This month, Facebook Inc. suspended U.S. President Donald Trump’s account and Twitter permanently banned him for tweets that incited last week’s Washington riots and also prompted his second impeachment.
“Mr. Giustra’s view is that Twitter should not be able to publish hate speech, threats of violence, and defamation with impunity,” said one of his lawyers, Fred Kozak of Reynolds Mirth Richards & Farmer LLP, in an e-mail. “He sued Twitter because of tweeted threats to him and his family, and because of his concern that social media platforms had the potential to undermine democracy. ... Recent events in Washington graphically demonstrate that ‘doing nothing’ isn’t a viable option.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court. Twitter declined to comment.
Justice Myers’s decision said that some of the allegedly defamatory tweets were published in B.C., that some refer to the province, and that provincial law would apply to tweets read by people in the province, which has at least 500,000 Twitter users.
Mr. Giustra argued that the defamatory tweets were read in B.C. In his analysis of the decision, Justice Myers cited the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2018 decision in Haaretz.com v. Goldhar, which, he wrote, found that “defamation takes place where the defamatory statements are read, accessed or downloaded by a third party.”