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Feb 17, 2012

Who's sued Twitter? The list so far

News that Melbourne defamation lawyer Stuart Gibson is suing Twitter on behalf of Joshua Meggitt for a Marieke Hardy tweet is only the most recent of efforts by the legal industry around the world to take on the social media giant.

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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.

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9 comments

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9 thoughts on “Who’s sued Twitter? The list so far

  1. Dikkii

    I’m not sure that the problem is Gibson and Meggitt is inconsistent with publishing law to date. Presently, you can sue a newsagent for selling a newspaper carrying a defamatory article.

    If anything, the issue is that no one has campaigned to have this manifestly unfair situation changed, and it has been like this for many years.

  2. ilolatu

    Twitter could just dismiss any enforcement order under the SPEECH Act of 2010 .

  3. Meski

    I’m still in shock at Andrew Bolt being right about something.

  4. Meski

    Aw, come on, I said something nice about the guy, I didn’t defame him.

  5. Mike Jones

    Let’s hope none of this gets back to the Doggonaut Lounge, Mesk. There goes one stellar reputation !

    I can see it now: “Shock-Horror – Doggonaut passes moderation test”

  6. Oscar Jones

    It’s a shame you use Google’s term ‘chilling effects” which is their blatant way of threatening those who would protect their reputations or copyright, with exposure.

    It saddens me the number of people who are still in the thrall of Google, Twitter and Facebook-mega privately owned US corporations who perpetuate the fantasy that they are all about freedom and not profit.

    Half the world’s media fell for the false claim that the Arab Spring was caused by ‘social media’-such an insult to those who fought and are still fighting dictators.

    Everyone should have the right to protect their reputation.
    Justice Leveson has in the UK has speculated on a people’s style tribunal for the ordinary citizen who is financially denied protection against the ravages of tabloid media now amplified by blogs etc which can be anonymously published.

    The big busts in New Zealand should be a warning to all : we are pawns in this game being played out between giant copyright holders and their equally large opposition- the ‘social media’. They are both after the same thing-your money.

    If Twitter etc do not put safeguards in place to protect users from defamation we will all suffer as the Megupload case demonstrates.
    Self regulation is being abused as it was in the UK as it is in Australia (check out the Aust Press Council website-they don’t even have the chairman’s name up to date. Useless).

    I despair how this country can follow so many ‘trends’ like sheep and social media is a trend.

    Another prime example-the Media Alliance went into bat for the paparazzi just a few years ago when police were threatening arrests over the bugging of Nicole Kidman’s minders. So that is a union meant to look after media workers going into bat for people committing illegal acts and who were not members of the union. Clueless.

  7. Oscar Jones

    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”

    It’s highly ironic that crikey is doing exactly that (and sensibly so) on this thread.

  8. Brent Smith

    How Did Twitter Become successful ? Then, The System Starts Its Attack (Legally). Bet Growth Rates Have ‘Marginalized’. Right Or Wrong? Empower Users to Block content Rather Than Corp Inc. ! ‘Promoted’ Is Just That.

  9. nerk

    Confused by the references to the “legal industry” as the shadowy puppet-masters here. Not necessarily accusing Bernard of constructing a straw-man, but surely lawyers don’t sue people – people sue people, right? Are accountants responsible for the fact that the negative gearing rort persists because they’re paid to point out the loophole? People will always try to target deep pockets, using whatever means they can – and their professional advisers are simply that.

    Governments? Sure – they’re in the pocket of the copyright lobby, and have a closely stage-managed relationship with the mainstream media, so one could imagine they’d be generally hostile to a powerful free-speech tool and unlikely to legislate to protect it.

    But the ‘legal industry’? I don’t get it.

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