Court serves injunction via Twitter
Updated on 01 October 2009
In a landmark decision, the high court allows an injunction to be served via Twitter in a case that could set a precedent for dealing with anonymous bloggers. Benjamin Cohen reports.
The case surrounds a Twitter account @blaneysblarney, which purports to be that of the well-known right-wing lawyer Donal Blaney, who blogs under the name BlaneysBarney.
The account, which was registered on 17 September, even features a photograph of the real Donal Blaney and posts rather provocative tweets including –
“So the Iranians were lying all along. Time for the RAF to start practicing bunker bombing...”
“Now Obama, who the eurofederasts [sic] love, is happy to leave us to the mercy of the mad mullahs...”
Mr Blaney became aware of the Twitter account, which has 79 “followers”, a week ago, and last night he decided to take legal action.
He told Channel4 News: “I know that is quicker to say contact Twitter and say someone is impersonating me and they'll take the account down.
“But that's not good enough any more. People want to know who's doing this and to force them to stop.
“Too many people abuse the anonymity on the internet, and it's right that they're stopped from doing so.”
This morning the high court issued an injunction requiring the user to (i) stop posting messages on Twitter, (ii) preserve the accounts (i.e. not delete it), and (iii) contact Mr Blaney personally.
What’s unique is that the injunction has been served via a Tweet to be sent by direct message to the @blaneysblarney account. The message reads: “You are hereby ordered by the High Court of Justice to read and comply with the following order…”
The message then contains a link to a web page containing the full court order. Mr Blaney would then seek to attempt to identify the person behind the account by tracing the IP (internet protocol) address of the first person to visit that web page.
However, there maybe some flaws in the plan. For starters, you can only send a direct message on Twitter to someone who is already following you.
Mr Donal’s barrister, Matthew Richardson, did not appear aware of this until I informed him of this, but as the fake account was actually following him, he was able to immediately serve the order!
Secondly, the publicity that Mr Donal has generated will probably mean that the person behind the fake account will be aware of the injunction and will decide not to click the link contained in the message and identify themselves.
In reality, whoever is behind the account will stop posting, and Twitter has a very speedy process of passing control of fake accounts to their rightful owners.
Mr Richardson, the barrister behind the case, believes that today’s ruling sets a wider precedent: “No person can now break the law anonymously on the internet in this country.
“That means no false Twitter accounts, no false Facebook accounts, no face blogs. It's a step in a very special direction.”
To discuss this with @benjamincohen on Twitter www.twitter.com/benjamincohen