Twitter's Landmark Tweet Against Impostors

Twitter's landmark case strikes the first blow at Internet anonymity and identity theft with the issuance of one single tweet. But where is that 140 character message that was responsible for breaking new legal ground? Inquiring minds want to know.

In the last three years, Twitter has not only captured the imagination of the masses, its been intrinsically attached to a number of historic firsts. Upon entering the Oval Office, President Obama sought out the social media advice of Ev Williams, one its founders. This past Summer, Twitter was vetted as a 'breaking news' organization in the recent Iranian election protests. Now in the midst of an intellectual property case in the UK, it is breaking new ground once again in a landmark case decision for a writ to be issued and served via the microblogging site.

The British High Court ordered its first injunction via Twitter on October 1, stating the social website and microblogging service was the best way to reach an anonymous Tweeter who had been impersonating Donal Blaney on Twitter. This legal action set the first such precedent for all future cases involving all social networks, including Facebook.

The body of precedent is called "common law" and it binds future decisions. Also known as a mandatory precedent or binding authority, it falls under the doctrine of stare decisis, where a lower court must honor the findings of law made by a higher court.

By the British High Court ruling that legal injunctions can be served by Twitter, this is the first court Donal BlaneyDonal Blaneyruling in the world to establish such a precedent.  The Order which is now being called the Blaney’s Blarney Order (named after Donal Blaney’s blog) requires an unknown Twitter user anonymously posting under the same name, and thus breaching the copyright and intellectual property of the blog’s owner, to stop posting and immediately identify themselves.

We're all familiar with the colloquial term "laying down the law." In this case, all those that up to now have been deviously hiding behind an anonymous user account best be aware that they now come under close scrutiny of the legal system.

Barrister Matthew RichardsonBarrister Matthew RichardsonAs the Barrister handling the case, Matthew Richardson stated: “The Blaney’s Blarney Order is a huge step forward in preventing anonymous abuse of the Internet. People have to learn that they can no longer hide behind the cloak of anonymity the Internet provides and break the law with impunity."


According to a Reuters report, the problem had become such an issue that Twitter established a system to verify the authenticity  of Twitter users with a seal that appears on the top right of a profile, used primarily by high profile Twitter accounts.

This came after harsh criticism from celebrities such as Kanye West (of all people) and Tony La Russa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball franchise who was suing Twitter claiming that someone had impersonated him on the site. In February, even a 'fake' Dalai Lama filed for a profile on Twitter, only to be caught and expelled from the site.

According to Blaney, he is ecstatic about how the case is proceeding, and feels that "the battle against cyber bullies is slowly but surely being won," and that he is glad that "he played a small part in shaping the way in which the Internet is used in the future."

So while the case is still working its way through the system, I did a little detective work to try to uncover whether or not the British High Court was one of the fake @blaneysblarney's 146 followers. When I couldn't find their profile, I emailed Barrister Richards, and he indicated, the following:

  • "The Order was sent from my account @MCFLR. When the'fake' set up (his) account he foolishly followed all of Donal's (@donal_blaney) followers (presumably in a bid to seem more genuine). Unfortunately for him I was one of those followers."

Consequently the "landmark tweet" was DM'd to @blaneysbarney. (A DM or "direct message," for those that don't know means that the tweet could only be seen by the recipient)... in this case... the fake blaneysbarney.

When I asked Richardson for the contents of the tweet, he supplied me with the following tweet info:

Barrister Matthew Richardson's Writ TweetBarrister Matthew Richardson's Writ Tweet

When I requested the actual hypertext link to the order, he apologized as follows:

  • "Sorry, it's still subject to settlement negotiation."

According to Donal Blaney's most recent blog, he's hoping he can settle the case out of court.

  • "I am in the process of negotiating a settlement with this individual. Rather than taking money in damages myself I am minded to allow him to impersonate me one last time by donating the money to charity."

Readers can vote for the charity they would like Donal to donate to. Presently "Help for Heroes" is leading in the poll over the other charities which include the Royal British Legion, Cancer Research and the British Heart Foundation. If you want to support one of these causes, vote for your favorite charity at Blaney's blog site.

Impostors have been prevalent on the Internet since day one and with the arrival of Social Networks on the scene, this issue has only been exasperated. Here's hoping that Blaney's Blarney Order and the legal precedent it establishes will be the first step in finally bringing to justice these nefarious characters.

Oct 7, 2009
by Anonymous

Who gets verified?

Hi Ron,

Great article. :) it's true that there are many impostors out there and scammers as well. That is why I think Twitter's account verification system is good but how do they determine which accounts to verify?

Also it creates awareness among internet users to be wary of who people claim they are on the internet, and of what private and personal information they share on social networks.

Unless we are very certain who we're sharing information with, it is better to share information offline, in case we get scammed.

Natasha Lai