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HomeBusinessExclusive: B.C. bureaucrat and billionaire face different challenges with the same social media platform

Exclusive: B.C. bureaucrat and billionaire face different challenges with the same social media platform

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Bob Mackin

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is warning senior government officials about cyber criminals stealing their identities to create fake social media and email accounts.

“Indications that you are being imitated online may include friends, colleagues or constituents contacting you about messages or emails they claim to have received from you, but which you did not send, or commenting on public postings which you did not make,” reads the advisory, issued last year, but recently updated. “Past cases of online imitation have been focussed on trying to defraud people for money, while some cases have also tried to influence public opinion on high-profile issues.”

@Twitter

One apparent victim of social media account impersonation is the executive director of the British Columbia government’s central freedom of information and privacy office.

Chad Hoskins, head of the access and open government department since 2018, said he complained to Saanich Police after an impostor on Twitter tried to ruin his reputation.

Anti-black racist comments were published on a Twitter account under Hoskins’s photograph and name in the wake of June’s Black Lives Matter protests and riots across the United States. A reader of theBreaker.news sent two of the tweets, but theBreaker.news has chosen not to publish them.

The first, dated June 10, included a comment above a tweet by U.S. conservative commentator Ann Coulter mentioning the funeral for Minneapolis murder victim George Floyd. Another, from June 19, referenced a photo marked with the #HomiesForTrump hashtag of a black male standing over a white male in a store. The impostor @ChadHoskins007 account included the plural of a notorious six-letter racist slur. Both tweets came from the since shut down account.

The B.C. government was notified July 1 and the matter was investigated by Gary Perkins, the government’s chief information officer. Ministry of Citizens’ Services spokesman Kim Emerson said Hoskins had been the victim of impersonation and was advised to file a police report.

“I don’t know what’s happened or who did it,” Hoskins told theBreaker.news. “I’m hoping it’s the end of it, but we’ll see.”

Paul Stanley, the B.C. government’s security chief, said it would be inappropriate to comment on a potential police investigation.

Chad Hoskins (LinkedIn)

theBreaker.news contacted Const. Markus Anastasiades, the public information and communications officer of the Saanich Police. But Anastasiades refused to comment. Instead, he referred the query to the freedom of information office. Civilian manager Justin Hodkinson used a section of the FOI law to claim the force was “unable to confirm or deny whether there are any police files associated with this issue.”

Identity fraud, including personation, is a Criminal Code offence under section 403, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security recommends victims take action quickly, by complaining to social media companies, government and law enforcement. It also recommends preventive measures, including sharing official accounts widely with the public.

“The more well-known and active your social media accounts are, the more difficult it is for an actor to create a convincing impersonation,” said the agency’s website.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Twitter appeared on a virtual B.C. Supreme Court hearing on July 29. They want Justice Elliott Myers to quash a defamation lawsuit filed by a West Vancouver billionaire because they say the case should instead be heard in California.

Mining and entertainment tycoon Frank Giustra filed the lawsuit in April 2018 over dozens of defamatory, abusive and threatening Tweets referencing his friendship and business deals with former president Bill Clinton and failed 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton. Some of the Tweets were death threats and falsely claimed Giustra was involved in the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy.

The social media giant’s lawyer, Marko Vesely of Lawson Lundell, said the California-based company is not liable for defamation that it did not create. Giustra owns a California entertainment company, has a Beverly Hills mansion, regularly travels to the state and opines on U.S. politics via Twitter. Therefore, the case should be heard in California, not B.C., Vesely said.

“Twitter has no assets here [in B.C.], no presence here,” Vesely said.

Vesely told Myers that the company claims its platform is used by 145 million people daily around the world and that it has no way of mediating the content. Citing a section of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, Twitter claims to be a platform, not a publisher.

Frank Giustra (right) and Bill Clinton (Twitter)

“There’s certainly nothing wrong with philanthropy and there’s nothing wrong with being Bill Clinton’s close friend, associate and supporter,” Vesely said.

However, Vesely said, Giustra has a global, multi-jurisdictional reputation and there is an American-centric nature to the subject tweets. Vesely also accused Giustra of attempting to choose a court that could deliver him the most-favourable result.

“He was born and raised here, he lives here, but forum-shopping, it applies when one tries to engineer a claim in one’s own jurisdiction,” Vesely said.

Vesely cited a 2018 Supreme Court of Canada decision against what one judge called “libel tourism.” Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article in 2011 about the Canadian owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv FC. The high court stayed Mitchell Goldhar’s lawsuit when it agreed Ontario had jurisdiction, but Israel was a more appropriate venue to try the case.

In March 2018, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted his company had a problem with anonymous users.

“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers,” Dorsey tweeted. “We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.”

More than two years later, Dorsey’s lack of action has led to a lawsuit by a B.C. billionaire and a police complaint by a B.C. government bureaucrat. Both wronged on Twitter.

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