Twitter has confirmed it will not be revealing the identity of a spoof blogger to Northcliffe after the individual filed a legal defence in the US.
Twitter had said it intended to unmask the @UnSteveDorkland Twitter user who had been lampooning Northcliffe chief executive Steve Auckland today, following a subpoena from Northcliffe.
But US lawyer Frank Summers has today filed a defence representing 'Dorkland' on a no win, no fee basis. He is also defending â€˜Dorkland' against Northcliffe's action for damages over computer fraud and abuse, computer data access and fraud, 'online impersonation'and defamation.
The case is now set down for a hearing on 6 September in a San Francisco US district court.
In a weighty legal submission, the defence case states: "The underlying identities of anonymous critics of powerful and public figures have a long and constitutionally-protected history in America.
'Plaintiff, ironically a British newspaper holding company, seeks to avoid those protections in its quest for the identity of an anonymous critic who has parodied its CEO on Twitter."
It states that Northcliffe's complaint is 'devoid of a single quotation from the allegedly defamatory tweets, or a single evidentiary fact to support its additional causes of action for â€˜hacking' or â€˜impersonation'".
Summers states that the lack of supporting evidence leads him to assume that Northcliffe assumed its action would be unopposed 'hence obviating the need to carefully plead the complaintâ€¦counsel knew that actually pleading the content complained of would reveal that the tweets were a protected parody".
Summers argues: 'The subpoena should be quashed, the complaint dismissed, and plaintiff's counsel sanctioned for their blatant disregard of the rules of this court."
Noting that the US Supreme Court has 'consistently defended the right to anonymous speech in a variety of contexts'Summers quotes: 'anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority . . . [that] exemplifies the purpose [of the First Amendment] to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society."
On the claim made by Northcliffe that â€˜Dorkland's Tweets provide evidence that he/she has placed employees of the publisher under surveillance, Summers puts forward two alternative theories:"employees are feeding Defendant Doe information, or Defendant Doe is one or more current employees who are merely laughing behind their hands every time the CEO walks by."
On the impersonation claim, Summers states: 'Plaintiff cannot be serious in contending that these tweets constitute an actual impersonation of its CEO, even assuming that Plaintiff had standing to bring such a claim. If anything reveals just how intellectually threadbare Plaintiff's attempt to subpoena Twitter is, it is this last claim. The court should dismiss this claim out of hand."