Northcliffe: Twitter legal action was about 'cyber bullying'

Northcliffe today said that its legal action against an anonymous Twitter user was not about freedom of speech about but "cyber bullying and harassment".

It issued a statement this morning following news that it has dropped a US legal action against the owner of the @UnSteveDorkland Twitter account. The UK regional press publisher had filed a subpoena compelling Twitter to reveal details it held on 'Dorkland' and filed a separate US suit claiming damages for computer fraud and abuse, computer data access and fraud, 'online impersonation' and defamation.

The case was due to be heard at a US Court in San Francisco on 6 September after a lawyer acting for 'Dorkland' filed a defence calling for the claim to be thrown out.

Northcliffe said today: "Since the beginning of this case, Northcliffe Media has been clear that its approach to Twitter was not about freedom of speech, but about a barrage of anonymous tweets that amounted to cyber-bullying and harassment.

"We believed 700 tweets in four weeks indicated a disturbing obsession on the part of the anonymous writer. Further engagement through the courts would require direct involvement of the very staff we are anxious to protect, so the legal process has been halted.

"Free speech is the lifeblood of our newspapers and websites. Here, in weighing the rights of an anonymous writer against the rights of staff singled out by name, we believed it was reasonable to ask Twitter to supply the identity of the person making these comments.

"His or her intention may initially have been humorous, but these tweets went far beyond commentary and satire, causing pain and offence. We encourage humour in our business, but no workplace should be expected to tolerate an unrelenting flow of derogatory and degrading comments of questionable legality."

'This case raises serious questions about how to deal with people using social media to defame and harass whilst hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

'At Northcliffe we will get on with adapting our title to the local, multi-channel approach that will secure the future. In the meantime we hope the anonymous writer gives more thought to the line that divides the humorous from the offensive.'

MORE ON THIS STORY : 

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.