Twitter to reveal identity of spoof newspaper boss account

Screenshot of NotSteveDorkland Twitter account The account holder said he does not work for Northcliffe media

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Twitter has warned the owner of an account spoofing a newspaper executive that they are to reveal his identity to the company.

Northcliffe Media, which is owned by the Daily Mail Group, issued a subpoena to the social network through a Californian court.

The account, @UnSteveDorkland, is a "parody" of Northcliffe's chief executive Steve Auckland.

The company said the tweets were "obsessive and offensive".

"I can confirm we have taken action to ask Twitter for help in identifying the individual in order to protect our staff from harassment," Mr Auckland said in a statement.

"We made no request for, nor had any input in, a decision to stop tweeting. Our first priority is a duty of care to all of our employees."

However, speaking anonymously to the BBC, the account's owner disputed the claims of harassment.

"People can make their own judgement," he said.

"I've not taken anything down. It's all in the public domain, I've not touched them at all."

The order means Twitter must give up all identifying information it has on the account holder.

In an email seen by the BBC, the social network advised the account holder that he could seek the help of the campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the American Civil Liberties Union.

Legal advice

The subpoena was first published on the Guido Fawkes blog earlier this week.

Start Quote

I got lucky on a couple of guesses”

End Quote @UnSteveDorkland

In a follow-up post on Wednesday, the blog made public an email sent by Twitter in which it warned the account holder that "Twitter is obligated to respond to lawful process and will do so on August 1, 2012, absent the filing of a motion to quash".

The account holder told the BBC that he did not have the means to hire a lawyer in the US, and so therefore is not currently planning to fight the order.

"What I need at the minute is a very good pro-bono California lawyer," he said.

"As it stands, they'll hand over my details."

He dismissed claims that he was being fed information by employees at the company.

"Not one tweet is fed by anything other than my imagination and knowledge of the company," he told the BBC.

Start Quote

If the tweets were really that offensive, I am not clear why Northcliffe did not take the matter to the police in the UK, who have investigated similar matters, rather than resort to the American courts”

End Quote

"I got lucky on a couple of guesses. I am uncontrolled by them, I am unmonitorable by them."

However, he added that since investigations had been taking place at the company sources had been keeping him up-to-date on its progress.

'Offensive nature'

The account, which was originally called @Northcliffestev, often criticised decisions made by the real Mr Auckland in his role at Northcliffe.

However, a source at the newspaper group insisted that this was not the motivation behind the legal action.

"Steve is a very open guy. The idea that he would gag someone just for being critical is just not credible - it was the offensive nature of the tweets."

Media lawyer David Allen Green, from Preiskel & Co, told the BBC that disclosure orders such as this should "not be granted lightly by any court".

"It is important that the court granted this order for a good and compelling legal reason and that the court also had appropriate regard to the right of free expression."

"Parody and pseudonymous Twitter accounts are often useful or entertaining. To gain a disclosure order can in effect bring such accounts to an end," he said.

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