Delaware shop owner in Hunter Biden case files $500 million defamation suit against Twitter

Suit claims Twitter’s censorship of Hunter Biden laptop articles falsely branded shop owner as ‘hacker.’

Updated: December 29, 2020 - 9:54am

In a case certain to test the limits of legal immunity in the digital era, a Delaware shop owner embroiled in the Hunter Biden laptop controversy has filed a $500 million defamation lawsuit against Twitter alleging he was falsely portrayed as a hacker by the social media giant.

John Paul Mac Isaac filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Miami, far from the Wilmington, Del., computer repair shop where he claims that in 2019 a man identifying himself as Hunter Biden dropped off a laptop and never came back to pick it up.

After Mac Isaac turned the laptop over to the FBI and a lawyer working for presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani because he believed it might contain evidence of wrongdoing, he became the focus of media stories, including in the New York Post. Democrats called the laptop Russian disinformation, and Twitter banned stories based on content gleaned from the laptop, suggesting such information violated the social media company's hacking policy.

U.S. intelligence has said the laptop was not Russian disinformation, and federal authorities have confirmed they took possession of the laptop in December 2019. Hunter Biden recently revealed he is under federal criminal investigation for his tax affairs, though he denies any wrongdoing. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently said it was a mistake for his firm to censor the stories.

It was Twitter's claim that the laptop material violated its hacking policy that triggered Mac Isaac's lawsuit, which alleges the social media company made several "false and negligent statements."

"On October 14, 2020, Defendant locked the NY POST's account as it attempted to post and disseminate its exposé on the social media platform provided by Defendant," the suit claimed. "In addition to locking the NY POST's account, Defendant published that it was doing so because the NY POST's story violated Defendant's rules against 'distribution of hacked material.'

"Defendant's actions and statements had the specific intent to communicate to the world that Plaintiff is a hacker," the suit alleged. "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 [constitute] 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."

Mac Isaac endured negative reviews of his shop and other harsh actions as a result of the publicity, the suit alleges. His lawyers said they filed the case in federal court in Miami because Twitter has an office and "performs substantial activities in the State of Florida."

Twitter's communications office did not immediately reply to a request for comment sent to its Twitter inbox Monday evening.

The suit comes as lawmakers in Congress debate whether to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields major digital companies from liability claims. Mac Isaac's suit is certain to challenge the claims of immunity in court just as Washington policymakers have a similar debate on the floor of Congress.

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