A Belfast law firm is demanding that Twitter provide the details of users of anonymous accounts allegedly linked to the ex-Sunday Independent columnists Eoghan Harris.
KRW Law represents two people who have been the targets of negative posts by the accounts, journalist Paul Larkin and Prof Colin Harvey of Queens University.
Mr Harris was last week revealed as one of the operators of the ‘Barbara Pym’ account and was dropped from his role as a columnist in the Sunday Independent as a result. Much of the content from the account was directed at Sinn Féin and nationalists, as well as journalists it saw as not being critical of the party.
Sunday Independent editor Alan English said the material posted went beyond fair and reasonable comment and was a "betrayal of trust".
At least nine other accounts have also been suspended after Twitter said they were connected to the Pym account. These include accounts in the name of ‘Whig Northern’ and ‘Dolly White’.
KRW contacted Twitter last month and demanded it reveal the identities of the Pym account’s users. This followed a tweet from the account which described an article by Mr Larkin in the Irish Times as “provo sectarian poison”.
KRW solicitor Niall Murphy on Monday said the firm has renewed its demands to the social media giant following confirmation the account was used by Mr Harris.
Mr Murphy said KRW is seeking "the name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), IP address(es), technical metadata such as user agent strings, and any other information that will identify or assist in identifying the person or persons responsible for creating/registering the Twitter profile for Barbara J Pym, Northern Whig and Dolly White." He said it is seeking these details "for the purposes of litigation."
"As the data controller of the Twitter social network platform in Ireland and the United Kingdom, Twitter owes our clients duties in respect of the publishing of defamatory statements by its users," he said.
“We are therefore working to identify the individual(s) behind these Twitter accounts in order to mitigate the damage that has already been caused, and may occur in the future, to our clients and their reputations.”
Mr Harris has said he ran the Pym account with five or six others, who he has refused to name. He denied running any other accounts and said tweets sent from the Pym account were political and not abusive.
KRW has indicated it will go to the High Court if Twitter does not hand over the user data. If this happens, it will have to seek a "Norwich Pharmacal Order", a legal order which can force third parties to disclose relevant data such as IP addresses. This may reveal the real names of the users of the accounts ahead of any defamation action.
At the weekend the Garda confirmed it is investigating allegations of online harassment of a female journalist from some of the now-suspended accounts. The investigations are at an early stage.