Apparently Steve Auckland doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.
Publisher Northcliffe Media, which is owned by the same company as the Daily Mail, subpoenaed Twitter to receive the personal details for the man behind a number of accounts parodying Auckland, the company’s chief executive.
After previous account @SteveDorkland was shut down for not being clear enough that it was a parody, the user started @UnSteveDorkland, which has picked up more than 500 followers since July 3. The latest iteration is clearly marked as a parody, and instead of an image of Auckland, it features a photo of actor George Clooney, who the user believes Auckland resembles.
The parody didn’t sit well with Northcliffe executives, however. The company subpoenaed Twitter to hand over personal details that would help identify the man.
“I can confirm we have taken action to ask Twitter for help in identifying the individual in order to protect our staff from harassment,” Auckland said in a statement last week. “Some of the recent anonymous activity on Twitter has been both obsessive and offensive. We will not tolerate such behaviour and for these reasons we sought legal advice.”
The identity of the man behind the accounts remains a mystery for now, though he calls himself “a wry observer of Northcliffe.”
Twitter has thrown its weight behind some users in the past, most notably Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris, though that doesn’t appear to be the case here.
In correspondence viewed by the Daily Dot, Twitter’s legal team told the user in question on Tuesday:
“We have not yet disclosed any information regarding your account. However, Twitter is obligated to respond to lawful process and will do so on August 1, 2012, absent the filing of a motion to quash. If requested, we can provide copies of any records disclosed.”
Twitter did not respond for a request to confirm the correspondence by the time of publication.
The parodist revealed to the BBC that he is unable to hire an attorney in the U.S. (the subpoena was filed in California) and is not planning to fight the subpoena at present. He added that no one at Northcliffe was feeding him information and that any tweets construed as insider knowledge were solely done with his “imagination and knowledge of the company.”
In lieu of its own support, Twitter suggested that, if the user needed help seeking legal counsel in the U.S., that he may wish to contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“What do they think they can do to me?” the user wrote via email to the Daily Dot. “I have done nothing illegal.”
The parodist has not been contacted at all by Northcliffe. The company has not even attempted to direct message him on Twitter, he said.
Twitter received 849 requests for information on users in the first six months of this year, passing on the details for 63 percent of the requests.
It is unclear if this is the first time that Twitter has given a private company information on a user parodying an executive, but one thing’s certain: It’s no laughing matter.
Photo of Steve Auckland via YouTube