Twitter says British Columbia isn’t the proper place for a West Vancouver billionaire to sue the social media giant over “defamatory and malicious” tweets that he claims were posted to discredit him because of his work with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Frank Giustra filed a lawsuit against Twitter in B.C. Supreme Court in April seeking an order to force the company to remove tweets he claimed painted him as “corrupt” and “criminal”.
He said the online attacks included death threats and links to “pizzagate” — “a false, discredited and malicious conspiracy theory in which [Giustra] was labeled a ‘pedophile.'”
In response, Twitter has now filed an application to have the lawsuit dismissed or stayed, arguing that if Giustra’s claim were to be heard anywhere, it should be in California, where the company is headquartered.
The case provides a window into both the challenges of attempting to hold social media companies accountable for the material on their services and the ongoing debate over jurisdiction when it comes to the internet.
The issue has gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in recent years, where the court upheld a B.C. court’s decision to issue a worldwide injunction ordering Google to remove a Vancouver company’s name from its global search results.
“The problem in this case is occurring online and globally,” Canada’s highest court noted.
“The internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally.”
‘I do not want to cancel my Twitter account’
The new court filings include a letter Giustra wrote to Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey in April 2018, asking him to make his case a priority.
“As Twitter’s CEO, I ask that you now investigate the source of these past and ongoing attacks against me — whether they are the result of individuals, a group, bots, or a combination of all three,” Giustra wrote.
“I do not want to cancel my Twitter account — that would be a victory of those who are turning this incredible communication tool into a conduit for slander and hate.”
Giustra is CEO of the Fiore Group of companies and founder of Lionsgate Entertainment. He’s also a well known philanthropist who has been awarded the Order of B.C. for his activities.
In his lawsuit, Giustra claimed he was targeted by a group who vilified him “for political purposes in relation to the 2016 United States election” and his work in support of the Clinton Foundation.
In response, Twitter director of trust and safety John Starr claimed in an affidavit that the New York Times and other news sources published articles linking Giustra to the Clintons.
“Consequently, Twitter users posted opinions on the Twitter platform concerning their views … which led to tweets about [Giustra], his involvement with the Clintons, the Clinton Foundation, and his business interests,” Starr wrote.
Starr said all the tweets about “pizzagate” were removed from Twitter following Giustra’s complaint.
He says there were 98 tweets in question, which came from 67 distinct Twitter accounts. Of those, 10 were set up in Canada and only one was set up in B.C.
By contrast, Starr claims that 42 of the accounts were based in the U.S.
“As of today, nearly all the subject tweets have been removed and are unable to be read, downloaded or otherwise accessed from the Twitter platform in Canada,” Starr wrote.
“Some of the tweets that are not available in Canada are, however, available on the Twitter platform in the United States.”
‘Stop the people I have identified’
Twitter’s application to dismiss Giustra’s claim will be heard later this month.
Twitter argues that the company is based in California and has no employees or assets in B.C. or Canada.
The company says it would have to call current and former employees to testify if the case goes ahead, and since most of its workforce resides in California, Twitter claims it would face higher costs and undue burdens.
“[He] regularly travels to California and would not face financial or practical hardship in participating in a trial in a California court,” the application reads.
Giustra wrote to Dorsey after the Twitter CEO vowed to “increase the collective health, openness and civility of public conversation and to hold [Twitter] publicly accountable towards progress,” in March 2018.
“I understand the tremendous value of platforms like Twitter to bring us together. But I urge you to stop the people I have identified, and others like them, from continuing to use Twitter to divide us,” Giustra wrote.
“Finally, instead of users like myself having to react to these hateful tweets, I would ask that your company find a way of using your powerful technology to screen these people, and their tweets, out of your system in advance.”