In the continuing saga of compounding privacy implications for social media companies down under, an Australian judge ordered that Twitter must hand over the personal details of one of its users to a far-right figurehead for defamation purposes.
On Tuesday, an Australian judge ordered that Twitter must hand over information on user PRGuy17 to far-right blogger Avi Yemini. The Australian anti-Islam provocateur launched proceedings in Aussi federal court this past February, saying that PRGuy’s tweets were defamatory, according to The Guardian.
On Tuesday, Justice Debbie Mortimer granted Yemini his wish, ordering by consent that Twitter must hand over the name, email, and IP address of the account within 14 days. The Guardian reported that the order means that Twitter has already agreed to comply. The supposed defamatory tweets included calling Yemini “a threat” to Australia national security and that his anti-lockdown stance led to more covid cases, according to Vice.
Yemini wrote on Twitter that PRGuy “hides behind his fake profile to defame ‘political opponents.’’ The far-right firebrand has hinted he wants to use this opportunity to “unmask” his Twitter sparring partner, outing him publicly online. This isn’t the first time the far-right figure has tried to out a critic online. He previously doxxed an Australian journalist, revealing his name and address, which led to multiple death threats and forced the journalist to take down his social accounts.
Social media and tech companies have already been known to hand over user data to law enforcement upon request. There are some major issues with this system. Reports have shown hackers have pretended to be cops in order to gain access to precious and lucrative user data.
In January, Twitter’s official blog reported it had received thousands of data requests from governments, the biggest portion coming from the U.S. The company said it partially disclosed information in 64% of these requests. The company also received non-government information requests from 35 countries since 2014. The biggest share of non-government reports up to 2021 was in the latter half of 2020. Twitter said it complied with just under 47% of these requests. The company has said it will only hand over user data in private cases on a court’s orders.
Yemini runs the right-wing blog Rebel News and came to prominence in 2017 during the rise of far-right politics around the world. He has been repeatedly banned from social media for hate speech. He was known for his attacks against Islam, China, and covid lockdowns in his country. PRGuy, who was consistently supportive of Victorian premier Daniel Andrews and the Australian Labor party, became an antagonist of Yemini online.
PRGuy himself told his followers Tuesday “efforts to silence me will only grow my voice. I’m just getting started.”
University of Sydney media law professor David Rolph told reporters at the Sydney Morning Herald that these efforts to use the courts to identify users online is happening more frequently.
Australia has become a new hub of defamation suits after courts ruled last year that publishers can be liable for user comments on social media sites. On Monday, an Australian politician successfully sued Google over YouTube videos he claimed were defamatory, arguing that they broke the company’s own terms of service.