In mid-October the NY Post published a story about the contents of a laptop that had been left behind in a Delaware repair shop. As soon as the story was published Facebook announced it would reduce access to it on the site. Twitter followed suit and said it would prevent sharing of the story. It’s first explanation for this decision involved its hacked materials policy:
And from Twitter Safety explaining the policy:
Commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves, aren’t a violation of this policy. Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 14, 2020
So the claim at the time was that the NY Post story contained images of Hunter Biden and other materials that had been hacked, therefore they were off limits. But there was no evidence the information was hacked. In fact, the Post story explained how the owner of the repair shop had come into possession of the laptops. Now the owner of the shop has sued Twitter for $500 million claiming they defamed him:
John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of the shop, was at the center of the pre-election New York Post story that claimed to have obtained emails retrieved from Biden’s laptop. But when the story was published, Twitter locked the Post‘s account, saying that it violated its policy on the distribution of hacked material. It also prevented other users from sharing the story.
But Mac Isaac claims that in taking the action, Twitter defamed him, because he is “now widely considered a hacker” and that he “began to receive negative reviews of his business as well as threats to his person and property.”
Twitter had no comment about the lawsuit. CEO Jack Dorsey later admitted the decision to block the Post story was a bad one. Twitter also made changes to its hacked materials policy to prevent it from happening again.
The Verge argues the lawsuit against Twitter is a stretch:
Twitter defines “hacking” loosely to include obtaining documents without authorization, and it didn’t name a specific individual as a “hacker.” The Post said it indirectly obtained its files via Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s attorney, who in turn obtained them from Mac Isaac. Some critics of the Post speculated that Russian disinformation operatives had planted the emails, which wouldn’t place the blame on Mac Isaac. (These critiques have not been corroborated.)
The complaint cites several negative business reviews that criticize Mac Isaac based on the facts of the Post story — but it’s unclear why Twitter should be held liable for those reviews.
I think they have a point about the bad reviews. Some of that was going to happen just because people on the left considered the NY Post story an attack on their candidate. As for the hacking claim, that never made any sense because Twitter had no basis for making that claim. It’s true that Twitter never identified the hacker by name but I think at least some people might have concluded Mac Isaac was a shady figure who might have been the hacker or possibly working with the hacker. It’s true that the FBI investigated whether hackers planted this but that all came a day or more after Twitter labeled this story the result of a hack. I think they at least deserve credit for getting this particular ball rolling.
Whether or not that decision is enough to count as defamation, I don’t know. The fact that Mac Isaac wasn’t a public figure might help his case. On the other hand, the fact that Twitter never mentioned him by name and that they reversed the policy soon after probably helps their case.