Journalists seek details of Twitter account holders

Aoife Moore and Allison Morris say they were defamed by account to which Eoghan Harris contributed

Two journalists want Twitter to reveal the identities of those behind accounts, including one to which Eoghan Harris admits having contributed, which they say defamed them. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien / THE IRISH TIMES

Two journalists want Twitter to reveal the identities of those behind accounts, including one to which Eoghan Harris admits having contributed, which they say defamed them. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien / THE IRISH TIMES

 

Two journalists have asked the High Court for orders requiring social media giant Twitter to provide them with information about account holders whom they allege have defamed them.

The actions have been brought by Allison Morris of the Belfast Telegraph and Aoife Moore of the Irish Examiner against Twitter International Company and former Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris.

In their action they seek damages for defamation, as well as an injunction preventing Twitter from publishing any further statements containing the same or similar defamatory words about the reporters.

They also seek what is known as a ‘Norwich Pharmacal’ order requiring Twitter to make disclosure of the identities of persons, who controlled, used, contributed to, curated or owned several named Twitter accounts, including the Barabara J Pym account, @barbarapym2.

Mr Harris has admitted to being the author of that account, the court heard.

However, Ms Morris and Ms Moore want Twitter to provide them with IP addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and other contact details of persons associated with a number of accounts.

They also want Twitter to give the names and contact details of other Twitter account holders who they claim republished or retweeted defamatory material posted by the Barbara Pym and other accounts.

They further seek orders against Mr Harris, with an address in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, requiring him to identify members of the group of persons who contributed to, curated or used the accounts in question.

Represented by Tom Hogan SC, the journalists claim that since 2019 they have been the subject of defamatory tweets published by the accounts.

Belfast-based Ms Morris said in a sworn statement to the High Court that the tweets wrongfully stated and repeated that she was a ‘partisan’ and ‘biased journalist,’ and ‘not fit to write for the Belfast Telegraph’.

The tweets, which she became aware of last October, also stated that she is a supporter of terrorism, supported Sinn Féin and was biased in favour of the Provisional IRA.

The tweet had a profound effect on the her reputation and mental health. The tweets also put her life in danger, she said.

She said that she had no option other than to bring these proceedings in order to vindicate her good name and professional reputation.

In her sworn statement Ms Moore, a political correspondent with the Irish Examiner, said the tweets had also damaged her professional reputation. The statements posted about her are derogatory and malicious, she said.

She said that those behind the accounts said that she had infiltrated the newspaper in order to “promulgate Sinn Féin extremist propaganda,” and peddle “Trump type fake” news.

These and the other accusations posted by the accounts are false and untrue she said. Her reputation as a journalist, she added, has been “systemically torn apart”.

She added in her sworn statement that the tweets had a profound impact on her mental health and she has undergone counselling.

While she said her employer is supportive, she said she was fearful that other journalists and the politicians she deals with in the course of her work may start to believe the false allegations about her.

The journalists’ actions were briefly mentioned before Mr Justice Senan Allen at the High Court on Friday afternoon.

The judge, on an ex-parte basis, said he was satisfied that the matter was sufficiently urgent to allow the court grant the applicants permission to serve short notice of the proceedings against Twitter.

The judge made the matter returnable to early June.