Twitter seeks to dismiss B.C. businessman’s lawsuit over ’defamatory’ tweets
July 10, 2019
July 10, 2019 4:45 PM EDT
In this file photo taken on May 2, 2019 logos of US social network Twitter are displayed on the screen of smartphones in Nantes, western France.LOIC VENANCE / AFP/Getty Images
VANCOUVER — Twitter Inc. is asking the British Columbia Supreme Court to dismiss or stay a defamation lawsuit filed by a local businessman and philanthropist because the court lacks jurisdiction.
The social media company has filed an application in response to a lawsuit by Frank Giustra, the founder of Lionsgate Entertainment and CEO of the Fiore Group of Companies.
He alleges in a statement of claim that Twitter published a number of “false and defamatory” tweets about him and has neglected or refused to remove many of the posts despite his repeated requests.
Giustra sits on the Clinton Foundation board, a non-profit organization founded by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, and says the tweets escalated during the 2016 United States election, accusing him of being involved in “pizzagate,” a debunked child sex trafficking conspiracy theory.
Twitter says in its application that the court should either dismiss or stay the action or decline jurisdiction in favour of the courts in California, where the company is headquartered.
It says if Giustra wants to pursue the action, he should do so in California where most witnesses and documents are located and where any judgment granted in his favour could be enforced.
Twitter says in its application filed in June that it provides a “platform for expression” and none of the tweets at issue in Giustra’s claim were written or posted by the company.
It says it believes users should be safe in expressing their views and that it has a community of online safety experts who develop and enforce rules and policies to prohibit abusive and threatening behaviour.
“Given the volume of users and tweets, Twitter cannot proactively screen all content posted on the platform and relies, in part, on user reports in order to identify content that violates its rules and policies,” it says.
Giustra’s statement of claim filed in April says he faced a targeted attack on Twitter by a group who set out to vilify him for political purposes starting around February 2015.
“Those publications included tweets stating that the plaintiff is ‘corrupt,’ a ‘murderous thief,’ a ‘criminal,’ and is involved in ‘pizzagate,’ ” it says, referring to the unfounded conspiracy theory that claimed Democrats harbour child sex slaves at a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C.
His lawsuit alleges Twitter also published threatening posts, including suggestions that Giustra be killed with two “bullets to the back of his head.”
He says the tweets have damaged his professional and personal reputation and caused “significant emotional distress and anxiety” for him and his family.
Giustra wants two mandatory permanent injunctions: one requiring Twitter to remove or prevent publication of the tweets, and another requiring Twitter to monitor for and prevent defamatory tweets in the future. He’s also seeking general damages and costs.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Giustra could not immediately be reached for comment.
The company says it took action in response to several letters and emails sent by Giustra from 2016 through 2019 requesting that it remove certain tweets.
Twitter explains that if a tweet violates a rule or policy, it requires users to remove it before they’re allowed to post again. The tweet is made publicly unavailable while the user removes it or appeals.
If the violation was “egregious” or the user continues the behaviour, the company may permanently suspend the account.
The application says Twitter won’t take action if the tweet doesn’t violate a rule or policy, and sometimes users delete offending tweets or deactivate their accounts before the company contacts them.
Twitter says it followed this process for the 98 tweets at issue in Giustra’s claim and as of late June, most have been removed and are unable to be viewed in Canada.
Of the 18 tweets that remain on the platform, eight are blocked in Canada but are accessible outside of the country, it says.
It says that Giustra has a “significant presence and reputation” in California, where he owns home in Beverly Hills.
By contrast, it says Twitter has no employees or assets in B.C. or Canada, apart from a subsidiary in Toronto, Twitter Canada ULC, which primarily focuses on marketing.