Commentary

Twitter Wins Libel Suit Stemming From 'NY Post' Story

A federal judge this week dismissed a defamation suit against Twitter that claimed the company had wrongly portrayed the owner of a computer repair shop as a “hacker.” The lawsuit cited Twitter’s decision to lock the New York Post’s account for posting a story about the alleged contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, though the paper wasn’t a target of libel claims.

The controversy started last year in the final weeks leading up to the election. As in prior presidential races, newspapers ran a variety of “October surprise” stories that cast doubt on the leadership abilities of the candidates.

The NYP in mid-October published a bombshell story the paper said was based on documents found on a laptop owned by the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The laptop had been abandoned at a Delaware repair shop, whose owner turned over a copy of the computer’s contents to Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney.
After the NYP posted a link to the story on its Twitter feed, the social-media company prevented users from re-tweeting the links. It also suspended the paper’s account for allegedly violating its policies against distributing “hacked” materials.
That description of the data irked John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of the computer store. In his suit against Twitter, he said he was “not a hacker” and that he “lawfully gained access to the computer” when its owner brought it in for repair, and didn’t claim it.

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Isaac claimed that as a result of Twitter's labeling, he was “now widely considered a hacker,” a term suggesting he was breaking the law. He said he began to receive bad Yelp reviews the same day Twitter restricted the NYP’s story, and eventually had to close his business.
In dismissing the suit, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled it couldn’t consider the NYP story as evidence because it didn’t explicitly identify the repairman. The court determined he became the subject of public attention because the NYP story included a photo of his computer store, which people used to figure out his identity.
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