Twitter opposes precise nature of order sought by journalists who claim they were defamed

Reporters Allison Morris and Aoife Moore have brought High Court actions, including defamation proceedings against Twitter International Company and the former 'Sunday Independent' columnist Eoghan Harris
Twitter opposes precise nature of order sought by journalists who claim they were defamed

File Picture.

Twitter has argued before the High Court that it should not be compelled to provide two journalists with all the details they seek regarding accounts that published alleged malicious and defamatory posts about them.

The court heard the social media giant has proposed an alternative order.

Reporters Allison Morris of the Belfast Telegraph and Aoife Moore of the Irish Examiner claim that the Twitter accounts in question have posted highly defamatory statements about them.

Arising out of those tweets, which were posted between June 2020 and May 2021, they have brought High Court actions, including defamation proceedings against Twitter International Company and the former Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris.

Former 'Sunday Independent' columnist Eogan Harris. Picture: Leon Farrell/
Former 'Sunday Independent' columnist Eogan Harris. Picture: Leon Farrell/

As well as seeking damages, the plaintiffs want an order requiring Twitter to make disclosure of the identities of persons, who controlled, or used several named Twitter accounts, including the Barbara J Pym account (@barbarapym2), and an account called Dolly White (@DollyWh72057454).

The information they seek includes IP addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other contact details of persons they claim are associated with the accounts.

They also seek details of login times from when the posts complained of were published.

They want Twitter to give the names and contact details of other Twitter account holders who they claim republished or retweeted any of the allegedly defamatory material posted by @barbarapym2 and other allegedly linked accounts.

Twitter opposes their application on the grounds that the precise nature of the orders sought are burdensome, unnecessary, and onerous. Represented by Alan Keating BL, Twitter said it does not wish to be involved in the main battle between the two reporters and Mr Harris.

However, it claims the orders sought would require Twitter to conduct an investigation into potential wrongdoing, which counsel argued goes beyond the scope of the order sought.

Mr Keating said it has advanced an alternative order, containing a formula of words which it would neither oppose nor consent to, regarding the disclosure of details concerning the accounts in question.

The two journalists claim they have been the subject of many defamatory tweets published by the accounts, and brought proceedings in order to vindicate their good names and professional reputations.

Mr Harris denies the claims.

At the High Court today, Thomas Hogan, counsel for the plaintiffs, who rejected Twitter’s arguments, said his clients had been the victims of a “malicious” “campaign of defamation”.

His clients had established strong cases which merited the granting of the precise orders sought, counsel said.

Outlining the reasons behind the order sought, Mr Hogan said that it was believed that several persons may have either contributed to the accounts which posted the material about his clients, or had retweeted them.

His clients want to join any such persons to their defamation claims, Mr Hogan added. He said Mr Harris had said in a sworn statement put before the court that he alone was behind the Barbara J Pym account, and that Ms Gwen Halley had control of the Dolly White account.

Counsel said this contradicted earlier statements as well as comments made in an interview on RTÉ Radio by the former columnist earlier this year, when he said that other, unnamed persons had contributed to the account.

Mr Hogan said it seemed from statements made by Mr Harris in May that there was “sufficient evidence” that others had contributed to what was published on Twitter.

Frank Callinan, appearing with Hugh McDowell, counsel for Mr Harris, who denies the allegations against him, said his client’s response to the claims are “very clear” in his sworn statement that he was the only person who controlled and posted on the @barbarapym2 account.

Mr Callinan said his client was not objecting to any disclosure orders being sought against Twitter, but questioned the scope and nature of the relief the journalists were seeking.

He said Mr Harris had sworn on oath that he is the person behind the Barbara J Pym account and, while there were elements of contradiction of what was said in the RTÉ Radio interview, his client could be cross-examined on that at the full trial of the actions.

Mr Callinan said Mr Harris had said in his sworn statement that some of the posts were based on “casual conversations” with other persons.

Mr Harris said that he did not operate or control any other Twitter accounts, and rejected any suggestion that he was associated with accounts purportedly suspended by Twitter.

Mr Callinan said there were many things that had been said about his client in the media regarding Mr Harris and purported links to other Twitter accounts, which were incorrect and had damaged the former columnist’s reputation.

The pretrial application came before Mr Justice Mark Sanfey. Following the conclusion of submissions from all parties, late this evening, the judge reserved his decision.

The judge said he would give judgment in the matter “as soon as possible”. 

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