The documentarians behind two feature films exploring corporate power are suing Twitter and the Government of Canada in a case aimed at establishing the responsibilities of tech platforms.
Filed in Ontario Superior Court, the case follows Twitter’s rejection of “boosted” posts featuring a trailer for the The New Corporation, the follow-up to 2004’s The Corporation. The sequel explores, in part, how big tech threatens democracy with the posts featuring clips and commentary from U.S. congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Harvard University political philosophy prof Michael Sandel, Indian scholar and activist Vandana Shiva, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and American journalist and political pundit Anand Giridharadas.
Joel Bakan, the film’s writer, co-director and executive producer says Twitter claimed the posts were too “political,” “sensitive,” and “inappropriate” to be promoted on its platform.
“Biden says Facebook allows too much free speech (and that it’s killing people). Trump says Twitter doesn’t allow enough (and he’s suing them). The overarching story? Platforms do whatever they want, and there’s not much we – even a past and current president – can do about it. This case aims to change that – at least in Canada, and hopefully beyond,” said Bakan, who is also a lawyer and law professor at the University of British Columbia. “The film is about the urgent need for more robust democracy and greater democratic control of corporations – including big tech. If Twitter doesn’t want people to know about this film, what will it censor next?”
The suit argues that because of the social platform’s central role in Canadian democratic discourse, Twitter should be legally prohibited from restricting political and social speech that causes no harm.
The filmmakers maintain that rejection of the boosted posts negatively impacted the visibility of the film and its launch. The suit also questions why decisions about content set to run in Canada were made out of California, calling into question Canadian content sovereignty.
Bakan says the case is fundamentally different from Donald Trump’s censorship class action against Google, Facebook and Twitter with Canadian free speech law, unlike its U.S. counterpart, accommodating free speech claims against non-government actors like Twitter, and excluding protection of incendiary, hateful, discriminatory or other types of harmful speech.
Bakan will lead legal arguments, alongside Sujit Choudhry, who like Bakan is a Harvard-trained constitutional lawyer and expert on the Canadian constitution. Choudhry currently practices at Huron Chambers.
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