Twitter argues it’s ‘not a publisher’ in response to B.C. billionaire Frank Giustra defamation case

Some allegedly defamatory tweets either ‘incoherent’ or ‘made in jest,’ according to response filed in B.C. courts

B.C. billionaire Frank Giustra is seeking damages against Twitter over tweets he alleges are defamatory | BIV file photo

Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR) says it should be able to wash its hands of any allegedly defamatory tweets aimed at B.C. billionaire Frank Giustra as lawyers argue the social media giant “is not a publisher.”

Giustra sued Twitter in 2019, accusing the company of allowing false and defamatory messages to be posted about him.

After unsuccessfully attempting to get the case tossed or else moved from B.C. to California courts in 2021, Twitter filed a response last month arguing Giustra’s reputation hasn’t been hurt by the tweets posted on its platform.

The response states that by signing up for an account, Giustra agreed to the company’s terms and services, freeing Twitter from liability over any defamatory or illegal conduct made by third-party users.

In his own claim, Giustra said that because of his support for Hilary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, he became the target of attacks alleging he was corrupt, that he was involved in murders, and that he was a player in the so-called Pizzagate pedophilia conspiracy theory.

The response takes aim at some of the tweets in question, describing them as “incoherent” and asserting they would not lower Giustra’s reputation “in the estimation of right-thinking members of society.”

Other tweets were either true, “made in jest” or fell under fair comment, according to Twitter’s lawyers.

And those tweets that violated Twitter’s terms of services were removed by the social media giant in a reasonable amount of time, the response states.

“Twitter Inc. is not a publisher at law and does not become a ‘publisher’ of Tweets by providing the Twitter service,” according to the March 8 court documents.

The response also attempts to decode the way users express themselves over Twitter.

“An impugned tweet containing the words ‘#Giustra’ or ‘@frank_giustra’ does not mean that all other words in the impugned tweet relate to the plaintiff,” the response states, referring to Giustra’s Twitter username. 

“The use of a hashtag (#) or tagging another Twitter user (by using the ‘@’ symbol) in an impugned tweet can only be read as a word in a sentence with a meaning if actually used as a word in a sentence with a meaning. Twitter users commonly use hashtags and tag other users to digitally categorize posts and/or bring a tweet to the tagged individual’s attention, and not to add meaning to the tweet.”

The company’s lawyers argue that to any extent the tweets are defamatory, those tweets were made by third-party users and Twitter has “no knowledge of the posters’ knowledge of the truth or falsity of the impugned tweets or whether the posters had malice when authoring the impugned tweets.”

Claims made by Giustra, who cultivated his fortune through mining, securities and the film industry, have not been tested in court.

In his suit, Giustra is seeking a mandatory permanent injunction requiring Twitter to delete the tweets and to prohibit further publications by its users of materials that are defamatory to him, as well as general damages.

—With additional files from Brent Richter, North Shore News