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The Supreme Court of British Columbia decided on Thursday that it has jurisdiction take on a case by billionaire philanthropist Frank Giustra against Twitter over defamatory tweets made on the platform which "allege involvement in a supposed conspiracy known as 'pizzagate.'"
Giustra, a billionaire businessman living in Vancouver, brought a defamation case against Twitter after being accused of being involved in a pedophilia ring by promoters of the pizzagate conspiracy theory. The theory alleges that a number of high-profile business leaders and politicians, most of whom affiliated with the US Democratic Party, are involved in an elite pedophilia ring. The theory began with a focus around the Clinton family.
Promoters of the conspiracy theory often point to questionable social media posts by individuals with varying degrees of proximity to Democratic Party officials, as well as former President Bill Clinton's association with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and the various accusations of sexual assault alleged against the former President. Clinton has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct against him, the claims have never been proven in court, and most other allegations by promoters of pizzagate rely on circumstantial evidence or claims which have already been debunked.
Giustra's association with the Clinton Foundation has in part fueled unsubstantiated allegations of his involvement in pedophilia rings, as well as his support for the Boys Club Network, a charity which promotes mentorship and leadership for boys ages 12-18. Giustra also founded the Elpida Project, a refugee center in Thessaloniki, Greece. The Elpida Project's logo formerly bore a blue spiral rectangle which bares a resemblance to a symbol identified by the FBI as a covert symbol for organized pederasts. Such evidence is circumstantial, however, and there is no evidence or testimony suggesting that Giustra has ever engaged in illegal sexual activity.
Giustra's defamation suit points to 106 tweets made on the platform, most of which accuse him of committing pedophilic acts or facilitating the trafficking of minors for sex.
The suit claims that the allegations against Giustra are baseless and "have damaged Giustra’s professional and business reputation."
The decision to allow Giustra to sue Twitter in BC was settled on a jurisdictional basis. Twitter is based in California, a state which, according to court documents, "Giustra has strong connections to."
Twitter argued that Giustra could only sue them for defamation in California, which in effect would mean that Twitter could not be sued by Giustra at all due to protections the platform receives under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Twitter alleged that Giustra was only suing in British Columbia due to jurisdictional advantage.
The court ultimately dismissed the arguments from Twitter, noting that Giustra is closely connected to British Columbia, that many of the tweets were made in British Columbia, and that Twitter holds some assets in Canada which "can be executed against."
The ruling comes as a potential blow for social media companies operating in Canada, possibly leaving them open to further lawsuits by Canadian citizens for their moderative actions, or lack thereof. The courts, however, are yet to rule on whether Twitter, and by extension other social media companies, benefit from protections similar to Section 230 under Canadian law, and have only ruled that Canadian courts have the jurisdictional authority to rule on such a case. However, without Section 230 protections, Twitter may find itself liable.
Twitter has stated that they intend to defend themselves by arguing that they are not the publisher of the tweets, further claiming in court documents that they do "not mediate or review the tweets."
Commenting on the outcome of the case, Giustra said "I hope this lawsuit will help raise public awareness of the real harm to society if social media platforms are not held responsible for the content posted and published on their sites. I believe that words do matter, and recent events have demonstrated that hate speech can incite violence with deadly consequences."