Defamation on Twitter
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How to handle defamation on Twitter by an anonymous user
Defamation on Twitter by anonymous Twitter users could cause substantial harm to the reputation of a business. The anonymous Twitter user might be a competitor, someone with a personal vendetta or someone you have never met or heard about.
Meet Richard. Richard is an entrepreneur who has been working on creating a new quality brand of whiskey. Richard and his wife, Angela, are passionate about quality whiskey and a few years ago they decided to create a new premium whiskey brand. The brand had been selling on a popular basis, to quality restaurants and hotels in England and the USA.
A Twitter user, who went by the user name “WizzardTheWhiskey ” had decided to start a defamation campaign, targeting Richard and his quality whiskey brand. The campaign comprised of tweets on Twitter and the embedding of tweets on a number of websites. The purpose of embedding tweets on websites, in this context, is often done to try and make the defamatory tweets come up on Google search results more than once. Google treats each website as an independent source of information which means the same tweet may appear two or even three times on the same Google search result.
The defamatory tweets included false allegations that Richard was a fraudster and a convicted criminal. The allegations were completely unfounded and untrue. Richard was unable to guess who the individual behind the defamatory tweets was, but he believed that the person might be someone who he didn’t know because the same individual was also tweeting about other individuals and brands who were connected with the whiskey industry. Richard could not think of anyone he knew with an obvious reason to target him.
What Richard was certain about though, was the fact that the dissemination of the defamatory tweets was causing and was likely to continue to cause him significant financial harm as well as serious damage to his brand and to his personal reputation. Richard had reported the defamatory tweets to Twitter but Twitter had failed to take action to have them removed. By the time Richard contacted us, he was at the point where he was sure that a significant amount of hard work, which him and his wife had both invested, generating quality commercial interest in the brand, was being wasted due to the defamatory tweets, which could be easily found upon basic due diligence. In the past few weeks before approaching us, Richard had experienced rejections, which can only be explained by the defamatory tweets. After all, no one wants to be associated with a tainted brand or with individuals accused of serious crimes.
We have applied the following strategy to successfully win many of the anonymous Twitter defamation cases. As a first step, it is important to identify all the defamatory tweets. Often, not all the defamatory tweets might appear on Google searches because Google would only pick a selection of search results from any particular source on the internet. It is important, however, to identify all the defamatory instances first, and to make sure that you include them all with any removal requests. If you neglect this task, once the currently visible tweets are deleted, Google will replace them with similar tweets that are currently unseen. Next, we write to Twitter and to Google, to request the deletion and the delisting of the defamatory tweets from each of the networks.
This is a fairly quick way to try and have the defamatory tweets deleted, whilst we prepare the third step. The third step may incur more preparation, but can also be affected fairly quickly. It involves a formal request to Twitter to disclose to us the true identity of the user who twitted the defamatory tweets including all the information that Twitter has stored about him. Twitter is likely to consent to the request, provided we obtain a court order, which would remove any data protection implications for Twitter.
Usually we are able to agree with Twitter in advance, a draft disclosure order, which we then submit to the court, together with a claim for defamation for the time being against “person unknown”. Often, Twitter users prefer to remove the defamatory posts as soon as they are notified of Twitter’s intention to disclose their personal information to us, so in the vast majority of cases the defaming Twitter user would remove all the defamatory tweets before the case even gets to court. Regardless of whether the disclosure from Twitter reveals useful information about their user,
Our clients are often able to pursue a successful claim for defamation either against the real person behind the user account or against “person unknown”. Whether the claim remains against “person unknown or against the real person, often we will apply for either a default judgement, because the individual hadn’t filed a defence, or to a summary judgment or because the individual, even if he filed a defence, his defence was weak. This allows the matter to be successfully concluded early without having to go through lengthy court proceedings or trials. Either way, in most cases, our clients are likely to secure an injunction that allows them to remove all the defamatory posts currently on the internet as well as future, similar posts.
The process of removing the defamatory tweets and securing the reputation of the individual and their business against future defamation could take a few weeks or a few months, depending on the factors that apply to each case. Whilst we would always do whatever we can, to facilitate the removal of the defamatory posts as fast as possible, and then, to secure a long-term solution, each case is different in terms of facts, duration and costs.
In the case of Richard and his whiskey brand, following an application for a disclosure order from Twitter, within days, the entire Twitter account of WizzardTheWhiskey was disabled. It is often difficult whether it was disabled by Twitter because Twitter was unable to match the information it had to an individual, or whether Twitter simply decided that it was, indeed, unfair for our client to sustain such a devastating campaign of defamation.
Once the defaming Twitter account was disabled, and links to the defamatory tweets were removed from Google, Richard, supported by our advice, had decided to put the legal proceedings on hold as his pressing issue had effectively been resolved. The entire process of removing the defamatory tweets from Twitter and from Google took around 6 weeks for Richard's case.