As B.C. billionaire proceeds with lawsuit against Twitter, Google loses defamation case in Australia

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      Some tech entrepreneurs have become very rich thanks in part to a U.S. law that shields their companies from being sued for libel.

      Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, providers of interactive computer services—such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter—are not legally liable for defamatory posts by users.

      U.S. courts have ruled that these companies are not publishers if they don't edit material, don't create or develop illegal activity, and comply with promises to remove material. 

      But a recent court decision in Australia suggests that this legal immunity isn't assured outside of the United States.

      A Supreme Court of Victoria judge ruled that Google defamed a Melbourne lawyer after its search engine linked him to mobsters in the state.

      George Defteros was awarded $40,000.

      According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation legal reporter Karen Percy, Google's lawyer argued that it was not "the publisher of the material" and therefore had not defamed Defteros.

      Justice Melinda Richards disagreed.

      It's an intriguing decision in light of a lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

      Billionaire mining financier and film-studio founder Frank Giustra has filed a notice of civil claim against Twitter Inc. for a series of tweets that allegedly defamed him in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

      At the time, Giustra was on the board of the Clinton Foundation and was a close associate of former president Bill Clinton, the husband of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton.

      Frank Giustra (centre) has donated millions of dollars to a foundation created by former U.S. president Bill Clinton.
      The Clinton Foundation

      Twitter is seeking to have Giustra's case heard in California, where its head office is located.

      If the trial takes place in California, Twitter could rely on section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and argue that it can't be sued for defamation because it's not a publisher.

      However, this law does not apply in Canada. And if Giustra ultimately succeeds, it could turn Twitter—often seen as the Wild West of social media—into a fat target for Canadian defamation lawyers.

      According to the B.C. Courts Online website, the most recent development in Giustra's lawsuit was an application in chambers, which occurred March 23. To date, there's no record of any decision being issued on the B.C. Supreme Court website.

      Giustra has given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

      Here in Vancouver, the Giustra Foundation has funded many charitable ventures, including a program at Templeton secondary school to help at-risk kids, the Streetohome Foundation, the COVID-19 emergency feeding program, the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, the Vancouver Rent Bank, and UBC's global reporting program.