Northcliffe Media has filed a legal action seeking to find out the identity of the individual behind a Twitter account lampooning chief executive Steve Auckland.
Papers have been filed with Twitter in San Francisco demanding that the owners of the social network reveal all records associated with the usernames @stevedorkland, @unstevedorkland and @northcliffestev. These will include telephone numbers, email addresses, screen names and login logs.
The Twitter accounts have sought to make fun of Auckland and other individuals in the executive team at the regional press giant.
After receiving a copy of the subpoena the author of the Auckland spoof Twitter accounts contacted Press Gazette via an intermediary with this statement:
"I am shocked and saddened that Northcliffe – a company built on the power of words – has chosen this course of action.
"If I am allowed to parody Marks & Spencer, there is failing to have a sense of humour and then there is Northcliffe's failing to have a sense of humour.
"I have stopped tweeting for now. Not because I am concerned, or scared or because I believe anything I have done is wrong or illegal. I have stopped because I do not want a penny more of Northcliffe's money wasted on expensive legal fees which might then be the reason given for yet more job cuts when profit levels inevitably drop as a result.
"Surely the management of Northcliffe have greater priorities than this petty, misguided action, which will prove ultimately fruitless?
"I thank the many supporters who have followed me or sent messages of support.
"Twitter has been given 20 days to respond to Northcliffe's lawyers' request. Perhaps that also means Northcliffe has 20 days to re-consider its actions – and also to consider how quickly a retweet giving the full story of their actions can go around the world."
Twitter had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication. But the Twitter guidelines state that spoof accounts are allowed provided they do not set out to deceive.
Steve Auckland said in a statement: 'I can confirm we have taken action to ask Twitter for help in identifying the individual in order to protect our staff from harassment. We made no request for, nor had any input in, a decision to stop tweeting.
'Our first priority is a duty of care to all of our employees. Some of the recent anonymous activity on Twitter has been both obsessive and offensive. We will not tolerate such behaviour and for these reasons we sought legal advice. Anyone who knows me realises I am a supporter of open communication.
'I am very happy to engage and directly answer any questions relating to the business. I will not tolerate any form of harassment of Northcliffe Media's employees, especially from anonymous sources."