The author of the Vancouver-based documentary The society and its sequel filed a lawsuit against Twitter Inc., arguing that the tech company violated its right to arbitrate free speech on its platform when it refused to post a paid tweet promoting its new movie.
University of British Columbia law professor Joel Bakan, author and documentary maker, and legal representative Sujit Choudhry also filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government, calling for stricter guidelines to establish the responsibilities of technology platforms.
They say the lawsuit, by challenging Twitter’s refusal to publish the Tweet, could have widespread implications.
“It’s a Canadian story, but it could also be a German story, it could be an Indian story, or it could be a South African story,” Choudhry said. “We hope this is a precedent-setting case, globally. “
The cases were filed Monday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The challenges overlap with growing concerns about the ability of large tech companies to control speech and the role of government in their regulation.
A Twitter representative declined to comment on the matter.
Mr. Bakan wrote the book The new company, released in 2020, on which the new documentary is based. It is a continuation of The society, published in 2004. The two analyze the role of big business in the world and how they affect privacy, politics, climate change and other major social issues.
The film’s promotion team wanted to share a trailer on Twitter using a paid promotion last November.
“If you want your tweets to be seen by a very large number of people, then you have to buy a promoted tweet or an advertisement,” Mr. Choudhry said. “And so if Twitter doesn’t allow you to post that tweet or some promoted ad, because of its policies, then that’s a severe restriction on free speech. “
Twitter rejected the trailer for the two-minute documentary, telling the promotional team that it had violated several terms of service, including its political content policy, motivated advertising policy, inappropriate content policy, and targeting policy for sensitive categories. Twitter notes in its civic integrity policy that it prohibits the promotion of political content.
“We define political content as content that refers to a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government representative, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive or result judicial, ”says the policy.
The lawsuit says a Twitter representative did not indicate which content in the ad violated the policies.
The promotion team said they repeatedly asked for further explanation because they didn’t believe the trailer broke any of those rules, according to the lawsuit.
“There’s no reason Twitter banned this trailer,” Choudhry said.
Mr Bakan said he believed the ad was initially rejected by artificial intelligence – raising the question of AI’s role in arbitrating public discourse. However, he said the discussions with Twitter representatives that followed did not provide sufficient reason for his trailer to be turned down.
Mr. Bakan noted that these Canadian content decisions were made outside of Canada, questioning the country’s ability to regulate content in public forums serving the country.
“Twitter being allowed, arbitrarily, to decide from California who can say what is really problematic, and as we argue, illegal,” Bakan said. Twitter is headquartered in San Francisco.
Twitter plays an important role as an expansive democratic forum, Bakan said in an interview, noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has 5.6 million Twitter followers and uses the platform as his primary communication tool.
The lawsuit against Canada calls on the government to introduce legislation and promote regulations that protect constitutional freedom of expression, on Twitter and other social media platforms similarly functioning as public arenas for the activities of political, social, governmental and democratic expression.
“We contend that under the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms], the Government of Canada has an obligation to regulate Twitter and to oblige it to respect the principles of freedom of expression, ”said Mr. Bakan. “This is an adventurous and new argument, but also deeply rooted in the precedents of Canadian constitutional law. “
Mr Choudhry added: “Frankly, governments should have started acting here a long time ago. “
Camille Gagné-Raynauld, spokesperson for Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, declined to comment because the case is before the courts.
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