A computer repair shop owner cited in a controversial New York Post story is suing Twitter for defamation, claiming its content moderation choices falsely tarred him as a hacker.
John Paul Mac Isaac was the owner of The Mac Shop, a Delaware computer repair business. In October, the New York Post reported that The Mac Shop had been paid to recover data from a laptop belonging to Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and it published emails and pictures allegedly from a copy of the hard drive. After the Post’s sourcing and conclusions were disputed, Facebook and Twitter both restricted the article’s reach, and Twitter pointed to its ban on posting “hacked materials” as an explanation.
Mac Isaac claims Twitter specifically made this decision to “communicate to the world that [Mac Isaac] is a hacker.” He says that his business began to receive threats and negative reviews after Twitter’s moderation decision, and that he is “now widely considered a hacker” because of Twitter.
Unlike many suits against social media companies, Mac Isaac isn’t specifically complaining that Twitter removed content — a choice that would be likely protected by the First Amendment. Nor is he claiming other people defamed him through Twitter, a strategy unsuccessfully pursued by Rep. Devin Nunes of California. His suit loosely mirrors that of conservative activist Laura Loomer, who sued Facebook for banning her under a “dangerous individuals” policy. (Loomer’s case was dismissed voluntarily in August.) Basically, his argument rests on the fact that Twitter said the New York Post report was based on hacked materials, and by extension, it maliciously implied he was a hacker.
Twitter defines “hacking” loosely to include obtaining documents without authorization, and it didn’t name a specific individual as a “hacker.” The Post said it indirectly obtained its files via Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s attorney, who in turn obtained them from Mac Isaac. Some critics of the Post speculated that Russian disinformation operatives had planted the emails, which wouldn’t place the blame on Mac Isaac. (These critiques have not been corroborated.)
The complaint cites several negative business reviews that criticize Mac Isaac based on the facts of the Post story — but it’s unclear why Twitter should be held liable for those reviews. Twitter also declared a day later that the Post’s reporting didn’t violate its “hacked materials” policy, part of a rapid series of policy shifts around the saga.
Mac Isaac is nonetheless demanding $500 million and a public retraction from Twitter. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.