The news that Melbourne defamation lawyer Stuart Gibson is suing Twitter on behalf of Joshua Meggitt for a Marieke Hardy tweet (which didn’t name him) is only the most recent of efforts by the legal industry around the world to take on the San Francisco-based, Delaware-registered company, currently valued at between $3.7 billion and $8 billion.

As Crikey revealed in December, Meggitt sued Hardy after he was wrongly named as the author of a hate blog. The suit was subsequently settled. Today, The Age reported Gibson was seeking to sue Twitter for tweets by Hardy that linked to the offending post. The hashtag #suingtwitterbecause, started by Brendan Maclean, promptly took off.

Andrew Bolt weighed in quickly, to warn of the chilling effect of a successful action.

Gibson’s suit joins other efforts around the world by lawyers and governments to punish the company for what is regarded as offensive material posted by users.

The Brazilian government is suing Twitter because of tweets about the location of speed traps and roadblocks. The government is also suing account holders responsible for such tweets; Gibson so far has not taken action against Twitter users who RTd Hardy’s allegedly defamatory tweets.

Last year a class action was started in (where else?) the United States, because Twitter sent a confirmation SMS to a user after they unsubscribed from SMS alerts.

An Israeli activist group is threatening to sue Twitter for supporting terrorist groups who might use the service. Earlier in December, the US government called for Twitter to close the account of the vicious Shabab militant group of Somalia.

Twitter’s large valuation has also attracted patent trolls suing it on the basis that it has violated patents like one for a “Method and system for creating an interactive community of famous people”.

And most famously, UK footballer Ryan Giggs attempted to sue Twitter in May last year to reveal the identity of a tweeter who revealed the superinjunction over his affair with glamour model Imogen Thomas, prompting an explosion of tweets mocking him and daring him to sue, which led to the rapid collapse of his superinjunction and exposure of his affair.

Gibson’s suit is classic gatekeeper thinking from the legal industry, which is innately hostile to uncontrolled communication: focusing on platforms and corporations (which can be sued or regulated) and ignoring the phenomenon of interconnectedness that is the real “problem” from their point of view, and that will persist as long as there’s an internet to host it, regardless of what applications come and go.

The logical outcome of Gibson’s suit is the sort of censorship urged by British “publicist to the stars” Richard Hillgrove after the Giggs affair, when he demanded that Twitter and Facebook be made to “introduce a delay mechanism so that content can be checked before it goes up”.

In October 2011, Twitter reached 200 million tweets per day. Assuming it takes five seconds to check every tweet, that would require nearly 35,000 full-time employees doing nothing but checking tweets. Of course, that doesn’t take into account that all but the toughest tweet checkers would quickly have their brains fried by any more than a couple of hours reading endless retweets of Justin Bieber comments.

Still, if nothing else, the suit will ensure Gibson and Meggitt get plenty of worldwide publicity. Odd thing to want from a defamation suit.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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