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Twitter Gone Rogue: Who governs content in Canada? Lawsuit from Joel Bakan and Sujit Choudhry argues Canadian democracy is under assault by big tech policies

July 19, 2021 GMT

Constitutional challenge accuses Twitter, Canadian government of failing to protect freedom of expression and democracy over refusal to allow ads about Canadian documentary film

TORONTO, July 19, 2021 /PRNewswire/ - The team behind the global documentaries The Corporation (the highest grossing documentary in Canadian history) and The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel (which examines how corporate power, including big tech’s, threatens democracy) is suing Twitter and the Canadian government in a landmark case to establish responsibilities of tech platforms.

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The case arises out of Twitter’s rejection of “boosted” posts featuring a trailer for The New Corporation. Twitter claimed the posts were too “political,” “sensitive,” and “inappropriate” to be promoted on its platform. The posts feature clips and voiceover from, among other esteemed commentators, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Michael Sandel, Vandana Shiva, Bill Gates, and Anand Giridharadas.

“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 Joel Bakan, writer, co-director (with Jennifer Abbott), and executive producer of The New Corporation, and part of the legal team.

The case is based on the claim that Twitter, because of its central role in Canadian democratic discourse, is legally prohibited from restricting political and social speech that causes no harm – such as The New Corporation post – in the same way that governments are.

“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?”
added Bakan.

Key Facts:

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  • During promotion for The New Corporation, which is a sequel to the multi-award-winning The Corporation, the top performing documentary in Canadian history, Twitter declined to allow posts of the trailer for the film to be promoted as ads.
  • No satisfactory explanation for the rejection was ever provided – Twitter simply claimed the posts were “political,” “inappropriate,” and “sensitive,” and thereby offended its policies.
  • The rejection negatively impacted the visibility of the film and its launch, and also had tangible negative effects on the film’s performance and brand recognition.
  • Decisions about Canadian-running content were made out of California, calling into question Canadian content sovereignty.
  • The case is fundamentally different from Donald Trump’s case against Twitter – Canadian free speech law, unlike its US counterpart, and more like that in most other countries, accommodates free speech claims against non-government actors like Twitter, and does not protect incendiary, hateful, discriminatory and other types of harmful speech.

Leading the legal arguments are Sujit Choudhry and filmmaker and author Joel Bakan, two Harvard-trained constitutional lawyers, both former Rhodes Scholars and law clerks to Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. Choudhry practices at Huron Chambers, and Bakan is a law professor at the University of British Columbia.

The case has been filed in the Superior Court of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. The team will be available for questions and comments via Zoom call and in person on July 19. Please contact Jen Evans @nejsnave at jen@squeezecmm.com or 4163463262 (Toronto) to register for either event or to arrange an interview.

About The New Corporation , The Corporation and Grant St Productions
The sequel, The NewCorporation, based on a book by Joel Bakan (published by Penguin Random House), was produced by co-plaintiff Grant St Productions, and was released in Canadian theatres and online platforms in 2020 to rave reviews. The film has been screened at festivals globally and aired by broadcasters. USA release will be forthcoming in late 2021. Community screenings can be arranged here, and screeners are available for media. Released in 2003, The Corporation by Mark Achbar, Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott is to date the highest grossing documentary in Canadian history and has had over 4 million views on YouTube over the past year.

About Cool World Technologies Inc.
Founded in 2019 by award-winning impact producer and entrepreneur CEO Kat Dodds, Cool.World is a SaaS marketing, streaming and distribution platform for the film and cultural industries. The company was hired to do marketing for The New Corporation, holds non-theatrical distribution rights, and is a co-plaintiff.

About Joel Bakan
Joel Bakan is a constitutional lawyer, and an award-winning author and filmmaker. A Rhodes Scholar, he clerked for Chief Justice Brian Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada. He is a professor of law at the University of British Columbia.

About Sujit Choudhry
Sujit Choudhry is a constitutional lawyer and the former Dean of the law school at Berkeley. Also a Rhodes Scholar, he clerked for Chief Justice Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada and practices out of Huron Chambers.

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SOURCE Joel Bakan