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Judge allows Niskayuna woman to subpoena Twitter for ID of tormentor

SCHENECTADY — A Niskayuna woman scored a win in her attempt to squeeze out of Twitter the identity of the person or persons she says have been harassing her on the social media platform.

A Schenectady County judge on Friday granted her attorney’s motion and allowed her to subpoena identifying information from the holder of the account behind @niskyfails.

Caroline McGraw, a 2018 graduate of Niskayuna High School and the daughter of former Town Board member Denise Murphy McGraw, maintains that some of the tweets defamed her.

She sued Twitter in April in state Supreme Court, Schenectady County, seeking to force Twitter to hand over log data, direct messages, tweets, email addresses or cell phone numbers and the name or names of people running the @niskyfails account so that she could pursue a libel action.

Twitter’s attorney last week countered with a motion to dismiss that and said McGraw lacked standing to sue over criticism aimed at her mother, and that doing so was an attempt to chill free speech and what are opinions with supporting facts.

Judge Mark Powers ruled Friday that McGraw could move forward with her effort.

He wrote that the account holders had been afforded reasonable notice about the legal effort and not submitted any opposition, and that their identity is material and necessary to McGraw’s case, so McGraw is authorized to subpoena Twitter.

Powers limited the subpoena to basic subscriber information such as names, email addresses and phone numbers of account holders, not content such as tweets and direct messages that would be protected under the federal Stored Communications Act.

The attorney representing Twitter in the case deferred comment to Twitter on Monday. Twitter declined to comment.

McGraw’s attorney, Matthew Tully, called Powers’ ruling a significant development, and framed it in the context of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s criticizing social media platforms as a breeding grounds for hatred in the wake of the Buffalo supermarket massacre, which the shooter live-streamed.

“This is a true David v. Goliath story featuring a Girl Scout against one of the largest tech companies in the world,”
Tully said in a news release Monday. “Yet in the end, the Girl Scout wins and gets to subpoena the tech giant so she can learn the identities of cowardly anonymous online trolls who defamed and disparaged her.”

It clears the way to reveal the identity of the account holder and begin a defamation lawsuit against them, and is apparently the first ruling of its kind in the state, Tully added.

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