Repair Shop Owner Who Supposedly Had Hunter Biden's Laptop Sues Twitter For Defamation... Has Lawsuit Tossed The Same Day

from the about-that... dept

As basically a million people mentioned to me, on Monday, John Paul Mac Isaac, computer repair shop owner, sued Twitter for defamation. You may recall his name as the computer repair shop guy who allegedly had Hunter Biden's abandoned laptop, which later became a NY Post story. That story then became a content moderation story, as both Twitter and Facebook sought to limit the spread of the story. In Twitter's case, the company claimed that it violated the social media site's policy against linking to "hacked materials."

As we noted at the time, this Twitter policy had been in place for a while and was already controversial in how it had shut down accounts that were clearly doing journalism based on hacked documents. Twitter later changed its policy regarding hacked materials, in large part due to the controversy over this story.

When I was first pointed to the lawsuit, I assumed that like nearly all defamation lawsuits against Twitter, it was actually about posts by users (which would be clearly barred by Section 230). The lawsuit is ridiculous, but it's ridiculous in a different way. Isaac was not suing over user speech on Twitter, but over Twitter's decision to refer to that material as "hacked," which he claimed defamed his reputation, and made people think he was a hacker.

Defendant's Distribution of Hacked Materials Policy ("Hacked Materials Policy") defines a "hack" as "an intrusion or access of a computer, network, or electronic device that was unauthorized or exceeded authorized access....

The Hacked Materials Policy further defines "hacked materials" as "information obtained through a hack."

Defendant's actions and statements had the specific intent to communicate to the world that Plaintiff is a hacker.

According to Merriam-Webster, a "hacker" is "a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system."

The term "hacker" is widely viewed as disparaging, particularly when said about someone who owns a computer repair business.

Plaintiff is not a hacker and the information obtained from the computer does not hacked materials because Plaintiff lawfully gained access to the computer, first with the permission of its owner, BIDEN, and then, after BIDEN failed to retrieve the hard drive despite Plaintiff's requests, in accordance with the Mac Shop's abandoned property policy.

Plaintiff, as a direct result of Defendant's actions and statements, is now widely considered a hacker....

So... there's a lot to unpack here, but basically none of this makes sense. As the complaint itself notes, Twitter has a very broad definition of hacked materials, and at no point suggested that Isaac himself was a "hacker." The policy was applied to the materials, which Twitter (for good reasons) deemed to have been private material that was not meant for public consumption. Also, if your defamation complaint is focusing on a dictionary definition, you're probably already in trouble. And, to make matters worse, the complaint leaves out the other definitions of "hacker" in the Merriam-Webster definition, including the one directly above the definition they cited (they chose the 4th one), which also says a hacker can be "an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer" which seems like a positive thing for a computer repair shop owner.

But, even beyond that... the whole thrust of the lawsuit is garbage. About the only thing going for it is the fact that it's not trying to hold Twitter liable for the speech of a user. Of course, even though it is actually focused (obliquely) on Twitter's own speech, the company still might be protected by Section 230, because the speech in question was part of Twitter's efforts to moderate -- meaning that it might be a rare case where Section 230's infamous (c)(2) clause mattered. But even without Section 230, Twitter's speech here would be protected under the 1st Amendment.

Either way, for now at least, none of this matters, because the lawsuit was tossed out hours later for jurisdictional issues. For a case to be in federal court over state law issues (defamation is a state law), it has to have diversity (meaning all of the parties need to be in different states). However, here, both Isaac and Twitter are technically in Delaware (Twitter is registered as a Delaware company). Thus, no diversity, and no jurisdiction in federal court:

The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff is a resident of Delaware and that Defendant is a Delaware corporation “with an office in Dade County, Florida.”... The sole basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship.... For a court to have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), “all plaintiffs must be diverse from all defendants.”... Thus, accepting the Complaint’s allegations as true, the Complaint fails to allege complete diversity. Therefore, the Court is without subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action.

It's possible that Isaac can refile in state court. Or he could try to claim diversity by arguing that Twitter is really a California based company (given that's where its headquarters are). The statement about it having offices in Florida is just... weird and unimportant. But even if refiled somehow, this case is a losing proposition and a clear SLAPP suit.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, content moderation, defamation, fact check, hunter biden, john paul mac isaac, laptop, section 230
Companies: twitter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 10:40am

    It's possible that Isaac can refile in state court.

    I doubt it. Now that he got media coverage portraying him as some kind of victim, he can milk that just like all the other GOP shitbags. If he refiles in Delaware and somehow it gets to discovery, he's going to run faster than hair dye off Rudy Guiliani's head.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 11:07am

    What a mess.

    Two things I note:

    which also says a hacker can be "an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer" which seems like a positive thing for a computer repair shop owner.

    "Hacker, Hacking, Hacked Material". I don't see where Isaac had a lot of leeway in vocabulary choices.

    In insisting that "Hacker" could be a good label to apply to a computer repair shop owner, perhaps you should ask about a bit first. Perhaps seeing that someone filed a (crappy SLAPP) suit for defamation would indicate that for this particular shop owner, "Hacker" is not a business-positive label.

    And the fact that you point out an alternate definition for "Hacker" kinda makes the point that the definition being used needed to be spelled out in the suit.

    2) the suit was not filed pro se. The lawyers (both local counsel Harvin and Harvin and Maryland's Compass Law Partners) should get schooled for this. Isaac already has been (in the form of lawyer fees, filing fees, etc).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 30 Dec 2020 @ 3:47pm

      Re: What a mess.

      This is false. Pretty much any computer guy over ~35 would consider himself a "hacker." The word didn't always have the negative connotation that younger millennials seem to think it does (nor does it need to be confined to computers, since electronics hackers have been around forever).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 7:03pm

        Re: Re: What a mess.

        Pretty much any computer guy over ~35 would consider himself a "hacker."

        Perhaps, but not in the context of possessing "hacked materials".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2020 @ 8:50am

      Re: What a mess.

      Yeah, that's a rather stupid point on the part of the article author. Twitter's "hacked materials" policy is very clearly using the definition in the lawsuit, not the positive definition.

      Words can mean different things. That doesn't mean we should ignore the context and say "well, it really could have meant anything."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 2:21pm

    Ye olden battle words

    “John Paul Mac”

    Your repair shop is of inferior smith.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 2:50pm

    Sorry John, you destroyed whatever reputation you had by going through and reading the contents of a client's computer then handing that data to multiple other parties. Enjoy your two months of fame on the right wing grift circuit as nobody's going to trust you enough to hire you after this or knowingly give work to any company you own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 7:34pm

      you destroyed whatever reputation you had by going through and reading the contents of a client's computer then handing that data to multiple other parties

      Assuming that he’s telling the truth about the laptop, anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bloof (profile), 31 Dec 2020 @ 3:13am

        Re:

        He probably isn't, but will stick to the story until he stops being able to profit from it, which will be long enough for it to be all anyone remembers him for. It's hard to stop being known as the guy who did the thing when you spent months on TV being proud of being the guy who did the thing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2021 @ 4:53am

        Re:

        Just claiming that he passed on information from a customers laptop is sufficient to destroy trust in him. It does not matter whether he did, is claiming somebody else's exploit, or just made up the emails that he passed on, his bid for fame has destroyed the trust needed by someone who repairs computers..

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 5:38pm

    no SLAPP

    I don't think this was a SLAPP suit.
    I think it's nothing but a money grab.
    I don't think Isaac saw defamation at all. He saw dollar signs, and is just trying to use this lame claim of defamation as the means to get it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom a sparks (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 10:11pm

    can someone kill this bot?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2021 @ 4:55pm

    " Also, if your defamation complaint is focusing on a dictionary definition, you're probably already in trouble."

    According to what you quoted, he wasn't. He was focusing on the definition that Twitter provided in their hacked materials policy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 3 Jan 2021 @ 12:17pm

    I don’t think think “Supposedly” is useful. There’s little doubt from all parties involved that the source laptop is genuine.

    The question is why he (or his lawyers) are focusing on the hacker aspect. He may have a leg to stand on with a focus on the false report aspect. The hacking someone else’s laptop aspect.
    May.
    Every major news source from WaPo on the far left to Breitbart on far right knowingly published disinformation during 2020. I don’t think any court wants to open up the fake news can of worms. He’s not going to get very fat with any judge right now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 3 Jan 2021 @ 3:09pm

      Re:

      There’s little doubt from all parties involved that the source laptop is genuine.

      Is there any evidence for that other than the shop owner's word?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Lostinlodos (profile), 3 Jan 2021 @ 4:16pm

        Re: Re:

        Tony Bobulinski; Hunter’s former partner has confirmed the emails and messages are from/to Hunter Biden. He has also provided cell phones and tertiary emails that match some found on the laptop.

        Again very few on either side still claim any doubt on the laptop. The question is if Joe Biden was directly involved in what the emails reveal.

        Not that that is all that important to the matter at hand. Why he is going for defamation over hacker. When he may actually have a case over the claim he did something nefarious; he’s unlikely to get much sympathy over the term hacker. Most computer techs have no issue with the term. It’s one of the primary services offered by shops. Recovering lost or deleted files. By its very nature that’s hacking.
        It’s the custody/ownership at issue.

        But I just don’t see any judge wanting to take a case about news facts in the current climate. If there’s any cause to decline or dismiss a case they’ll take it and run.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 4 Jan 2021 @ 8:23am

          Re: Re: Re:

          When he may actually have a case over the claim he did something nefarious; he’s unlikely to get much sympathy over the term hacker. Most computer techs have no issue with the term. It’s one of the primary services offered by shops. Recovering lost or deleted files. By its very nature that’s hacking.

          You're conflating the different meanings of the word. The meaning in question is about illicitly gaining entry into a computer system without the consent of its owner or operator. Something a computer repair tech might not want to be known for.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Lostinlodos (profile), 4 Jan 2021 @ 11:06am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I follow. Actually that’s somewhat my point. The fact is that the laptop was his by both store policy and by Abandonment law.

            The minimal initial coverage tended to hide or ignore that. He didn’t hack H Biden’s laptop. H hacked a laptop former belonging to H Biden.

            I also agree it’s a money grab. He was denounced in most media as a Russian agent or a criminal; or both. He has plenty of places to pursue being wronged. He chose the one avenue that isn’t going to work.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2021 @ 1:27am

    Re: "There’s little doubt from all parties involved that the source laptop is genuine." Classic FSB kompromat using intercepted communications by FSB or FAPSI sigint operators, assembled and placed on a laptop that is mysteriously 'found' and leaked to outlets guaranteed to run with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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