A Delaware computer repair shop owner sued Twitter, alleging the social network defamed him by effectively labeling him a “hacker” after his business was cited as the source for info obtained from a laptop allegedly owned by Hunter Biden that served as the basis for several New York Post articles published in October.
In the lawsuit (at this link), John Paul Mac Isaac said he was forced to shut down the Mac Shop, his computer repair business in Wilmington, Del., after Twitter said the NY Post stories violated its “hacked materials” policy and initially disallowed users from sharing links to them. The Rupert Murdoch-owned paper claimed the material for its Hunter Biden exposés was supplied by Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who allegedly obtained it from a MacBook Pro that had been abandoned in Mac Isaac’s shop.
Mac Issac is demanding $500 million in punitive damages from Twitter plus unspecified compensatory damages and lawyers’ fees, as well as an order forcing Twitter to “make a public retraction of all false statements.” The lawsuit was filed Monday, Dec. 28, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
“Plaintiff is not a hacker and the information obtained from the computer does not [constitute] hacked materials because Plaintiff lawfully gained access to the computer,” the lawsuit says. As a result of Twitter’s citing its “hacked materials” policy for blocking the Post’s articles, Mac Isaac’s complaint says he “is now widely considered a hacker” and received negative online reviews and threats against his person and property. He claims he was ultimately forced to shutter the Mac Shop.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Mac Isaac’s lawsuit, in April 2019 he “was asked to recover information from a damaged Mac laptop allegedly owned by Mr. Hunter Biden.” Mac Isaac claims he contacted Hunter Biden to let him know the data was recovered from the computer but that Biden never picked up the hard drive. Between late July 2019 and Oct. 14, 2020, per the lawsuit, Mac Isaac had “multiple interactions” with the FBI and Robert Costello, an attorney for Giuliani, about the material retrieved from the MacBook. Mac Isaac “was unaware that [the] NY Post had information from the hard drive or that a story was going to be published,” and he asserts that he “did not want his name released to the public,” according to the lawsuit.
Twitter on Oct. 14 blocked users from tweeting unconfirmed New York Post articles alleging that now president-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter engaged in corrupt business deals in Ukraine and China.
After first citing its “hacked materials” policy for the URL blocking, Twitter a day later revised that policy to allow tweets that discuss hacked material and under which the company would add labels to (rather than block) posts that link to such content.
On Oct. 30, in another update, Twitter said that enforcement decisions made under policies that are subsequently changed will no longer be applied retroactively. “This means that because a specific @nypost enforcement led us to update the Hacked Materials Policy, we will no longer restrict their account under the terms of the previous policy and they can now Tweet again,” the Twitter Safety team said in a thread. In addition, the Post’s previous tweets linking to the Biden stories, which Twitter had disabled, were restored.
Twitter’s blocking of the Post articles ignited new calls from Republicans to revise or revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives internet companies latitude to remove content that violates their policies while shielding them from legal liability. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in October, GOP members attacked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for the company’s blocking of the Post stories.
Dorsey denied that Twitter’s enforcement decisions favor Democratic politicians or issues. He testified that the company had blocked tweets with links to the Post articles because “We didn’t want Twitter to be a distributor for hacked materials.” Dorsey previously acknowledged that Twitter’s blocking of the articles’ URLs without context was wrong.
At the same Senate hearing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company limited distribution of the New York Post’s initial Biden story in part based on an FBI warning about potential “hack and leak operations” that could be “part of a foreign manipulation attempt” ahead of the 2020 U.S. election.