Northern Ireland

Tweets to be blocked in former journalist’s legal action against ‘X’ in case linked to suspected cyber stalker

Woman takes case over alleged failures by social media giant to shut down account linked to suspected stalker

Mr Justice Humphreys delivered judgment at Belfast High Court
(Liam McBurney/PA)

NEARLY 100 tweets are to be blocked in a former journalist’s legal action against social media giant X over alleged failures to shut down an account linked to her suspected cyberstalker.

The woman, who cannot be identified, obtained the interim injunction at the High Court in Belfast on Tuesday amid claims she has been subjected to an online campaign which has had a “devastating” impact on her reputation.

She is suing X, formerly known as Twitter, and a man accused of posting the content, seeking damages for alleged defamation and misuse of private information.

Mr Justice Colton was told a related action against the Dublin-based owners of blog service provider WordPress has been settled on confidential but “amicable” terms.

Proceedings centre on a series of tweets and blogs last year which were said to have targeted the plaintiff in her role as a journalist.

Her lawyers contend that a man currently facing criminal charges used a pseudonym X account to “pursue a relentless campaign of online harassment, cyberstalking, abuse and defamation”.

A series of tweets contained serious and false allegations, as well as targeting her with threats, according to their case.

The court heard claims that he made completely unfounded tweets about links to terrorism and a cover-up of murder.

Barrister Peter Girvan, instructed by solicitor Olivia O’Kane, described the baseless allegations about his client as extremely grave.

“Each post is individually serious, but they are more so when taken collectively,” he said.

“The incremental effect of reading these allegations over a period of time was devastating to the plaintiff’s reputation, causing her significant anxiety and distress.”

The journalist sought an interim injunction to have the content of 97 postings withheld from access, or geo-blocked, in the United Kingdom.

X was “neutral” to her application, the court heard.

Granting the temporary measure, Mr Justice Colton held that he had jurisdiction to make a UK-wide order.

The case is expected to be listed for a full trial later this year.

In statements outside court, representatives from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called for more to be done to protect its members from abuse.

General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said: “The culture of online toxicity has a chilling effect on journalists and journalism.

“Social media giants must do more to step in and prevent harmful content from appearing or indeed remaining on their platforms.”

The NUJ’s Assistant General Secretary, Seamus Dooley described the court case as an Important step in curbing online abuse.

“Even with the protection of anonymity, this  has been traumatic for our member,” he said.

“Platform providers must take stronger measures to curb abuse and need to recognise the devastating consequences of vile trolling, which is so often directed at women.”