Regional newspaper publisher Northcliffe has filed a lawsuit in the US demanding potentially huge damages from an anonymous Twitter user who has set up an account lampooning chief executive Steve Auckland.
The lawsuit filed in San Francisco, where Twitter is based, demands a jury trial and claims computer fraud and abuse, computer data access and fraud, 'online impersonation'and defamation.
- November 24, 2021
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The latest action follows news that Northcliffe has sued Twitter to find out the identity of the individual behind the @UnSteveDorkland, @SteveDorkland and @NorthcliffeStev Twitter accounts. Twitter has said it will hand over the information it holds on these accounts.
In separate legal documents filed against the unknown Twitter user, Northcliffe accuses â€˜Dorkland' of posting 'numerous false and defamatory statements'and also says he/she has 'disclosed information obtained by unlawful means'to 'deliberately harass'Auckland and other Northcliffe employees.
The documents alleges that 'at least some of the information made public on Twitter'could only be obtained by hacking into a Northcliffe email account.
Northcliffe makes reference to 'specific, false attacks'on the character of its employees and claims that â€˜Dorkland' published 'detailed and highly sensitive information'about the private lives of said employees.
The court paper also alleges that â€˜Dorkland' 'used the name and/or image'of Steve Auckland to impersonate him in connection with the false and defamatory statements.
Northcliffe is claiming injury to reputation, goodwill and the 'functioning of its business". It also states that Northcliffe employees have been caused to 'fear for their safety'due to the 'posting of information apparently obtained from surveillance of employees".
Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act aspect of the claim, Northcliffe alleges that â€˜Dorkland' unlawfully obtained access to its computer system. It claims damage and losses of more than $5,000 and says â€˜Dorkland' has caused it 'irreparable injury".
Under the action for libel, Northcliffe claims that â€˜Dorkland' published 'false and disparaging statements".
The legal claim states that â€˜Dorkland' 'knowingly and without consent credibly'impersonated Northcliffe employees through a website 'for the purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening and defrauding'it.
Northcliffe claims that â€˜Dorkland' has caused it 'irreparable and incalculable injury'in violation of the California Penal Code.
By way of compensation Northcliffe is demanding that â€˜Dorkland' stop 'disseminating or distributing false statements'about it, stop publishing confidential information about Northcliffe and stop impersonating Northcliffe and/or its employees.
Northcliffe is demanding recompense of its legal fees from â€˜Dorkland' as well as 'punitive damages'and it asked for the matter to be settled via trial by jury in the US.
â€˜Dorkland', who has obtained legal representation on a no-win, no-fee basis in the US, provided Press Gazette with the following statement: 'I am passing to you the court document on which Northcliffe's subpoena to the California court is based, which is a public document. My legal counsel is preparing a motion to quash the subpoena, but you are free to publicise this material should you see fit. I will be in touch further soon when I can update you on the process. I do of course deny all accusations of illegal conduct set out in this document.'
Steve Auckland previously 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."