Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Defamation Law vs Censorship

Mac Isaac, the laptop repairman with whom Hunter Biden apparently left a laptop, has sued Twitter. His complaint is not that Twitter locked the New York Post account of the contents of the laptop's hard drive. It is that their explanation for locking it was the claim that the account was in violation of Twitter's hacked material rules, and that Twitter, in explaining that policy, defines a hack as

an intrusion or access of a computer, network, or electronic device that was unauthorized or exceeded authorized access.

By Isaac's account of what happened, his access to a laptop that had been dropped off at his shop for repair and then abandoned was authorized, hence not a hack. It followed that Twitter was making false statements which, according to Isaac, have had large negative effects on him. On the face of it, it looks like a legitimate case.

What made the story of particular interest to me was that Isaac is doing something I had thought about doing, decided not to do, and suggested to a law firm that they might do in similar cases — with regard to Facebook, not Twitter. 

About a year ago, I discovered that Facebook was blocking all links to my web page. Anyone who attempted to put up such a link got a message saying that the page violated Facebook's community standards. I went through the procedures on Facebook to object, never got any response. Eventually they stopped blocking it, still with no explanation.

Facebook is a private firm, and as such has a legal right to decide what messages they will or will not publish. They do not have a legal right to defame me, which, assuming that nothing on my page actually violated their community standards, they were doing. The problem had been solved when they stopped blocking the page, and in any case was never a large enough problem to justify the trouble of a court case. But it occurred to me that it might justify a class action by someone else, so I emailed a law firm that seemed appropriate with the suggestion.

Mac Isaac, or his attorney, apparently had the same idea in a much larger case, and has now acted on it. I wish him well.


renato said...

Reading about the Isaac/twitter and your cases, it seems that such kind of lawsuit will only make the platforms provide less information about why something is being blocked.
For example, in Isaac/twitter case, if it was already less detailed, like with a boilerplate "it violates the community standards," it wouldn't be possible (or it would be much harder) to defend against it and provide the details necessary to show that it was not an illegal access.
I would also expect that the violation in the ToS will expand even more to cover any kind of message, nullifying the chance of the company be condemned for libel/defamation.
And, then i'm not sure if anything will be gained, as we will lose the transparency and keep the same arbitrary rules in place.

Anonymous said...

The Magic Hunter Laptop suit doesn't have a snowball's chance of success, nor should it. Even among other standout-dumb defamation suits this year (Devin Nunes' Cow moves to be recognized), it it horribly thin. Anyone familiar with how this works should see this; if you're blessed with a life free of concern with legal details, you can ruin your run here:

I would have thought you'd be more supportive of free speech than this. But a lot of libertarians turn out to be closet-monarchists. (Wait, doe you believe this defames you?)

William H. Stoddard said...

iA case being rejected for lack of jurisdiction says nothing about the merits of its claims. That's purely a question of the opinions of the commenters.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, the phrase "violates Facebook's community standards" gives the impression that the community somehow set the standards. Facebook is just enforcing the will of the people! However, isn't the intrusion of the word "community" in this phrase totally extraneous? Facebook set up standards for what can be posted and then referred to them as "community" standards.

David Friedman said...

The simplest solution for FB, supposing someone had sued along the lines I suggested, would be to replace the statement that the web page violates their community standards with the statement that it may violate their community standards and they had not yet had an opportunity to check. That, unlike what they did say, would presumably be true.