The Canadian government will have to explain in court why it allows a giant social-media company to block advertisements for an indie film exposing a corporate charm offensive.
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel writer, codirector and executive producer Joel Bakan and the film's marketer, Kat Dodds, are seeking court orders to force Twitter to accept boosted posts to advertise the film.
Bakan, a constitutional law professor at UBC's law school, is part of the legal team. It has named the Canadian government as a respondent in one of two applications to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The applicants are seeking a court order forcing the government of Canada to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and ensure that Canadians' right to freedom of expression is protected on Twitter.
They pointed out in one court document that under section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (originally known as the British North America Act), Canada has jurisdiction to regulate electronic media and communications, including social media platforms.
Yet it has not exercised this duty in connection with Canadians' freedom of expression, even though this right is protected under section 2(b) of the charter.
"Bills currently before Parliament and legislative proposals do not alter that fact," the applicants stated in their application. "Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts (currently under consideration in the Senate) would merely extend elements of the Broadcasting Act to digital streaming services and internet providers."
They added that proposals to amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect Internet users from hate propaganda, hate crimes, and hate speech fail to include any protection for platform users' freedom of expression.
Heads of state use Twitter
In advancing their arguments, Bakan and Dodds alleged that Twitter "has become a central public arena for democratic dialogue and debate among citizens, organizations, and governments".
"Twitter is widely regarded, and promotes itself, as a forum for expressive activity, open to all," they stated in their application for a court order. "It is where heads of state, politicians, and public institutions make significant statements, communicate with citizens and media, and relay critical information.
"Moreover," they added, "Twitter is a platform for citizens to engage with political decision-makers and each other. Because of its role as a public arena for political and social speech, Twitter is unique among companies, including traditional media outlets and other social media platforms."
Yet when Dodds's company, Cool World Technologies, sought to boost posts to promote The New Corporation's trailer, Twitter allegedly rejected this on six occasions, often citing different reasons.
In a December 1, 2020 message, a company official declared that "Twitter globally prohibits the promotion of political content", arguing that this ban was based on its belief that these messages must be "earned", not bought.
The other applicants are Dodds's company, Cool World Technologies, and Grant Street Productions, which made the film.
Twitter and the Canadian government have not filed legal responses yet and none of the allegations made by the applicants have been proven in court.
The New Corporation has been a hit on the film-festival circuit for revealing how some big business leaders are presenting themselves as saviours in the face of a worsening climate crisis, rising income inequality, and growing political authoritarianism.