The high court in London has ruled that Twitter must reveal the identity behind parody accounts set up to mimic the pub chain Wetherspoons.
The accounts had tens of thousands of followers between them.
One tweet promised that anyone wearing a waistcoat in the pub during one of England’s World Cup matches would get a free drink.
The firm behind the pubs, JD Wetherspoon, said that the accounts “damaged its brand”.
A spokesman for the pub chain said it was “pleased with the court decision”, adding that the parody accounts had “caused Wetherspoons lots of issues over a period of time”.
Lawyers said that the account that is still active was set up to deliberately look like its official one.
Twitter declined to comment on the case.
No social media
JD Wetherspoon deleted its own Twitter account in April.
At the time, chief executive Tim Martin said that people in general – and his own staff in particular – were spending too much time on social media, and it was a distraction from customer service. The firm also deleted its Instagram and Facebook accounts.
The first fake account – @WetherspoonUK – was created in July 2014 and Twitter removed it for breaking its rules around impersonation. Three other accounts were set up and deleted over the next few years. The latest – @Wetherspoon__UK – is still live.
In court, lawyer Adrian Fox said it suspected all the accounts were run by the same person.
One tweet, in which it was claimed that its pub staff would not be wearing poppies for Remembrance Day, resulted in hundreds of outraged calls and emails to its head office.
One shareholder attended the firm’s annual general meeting to express his concern about the news and pose questions to the chief executive.
Other practical jokes included false invitations to job interviews and fake voucher codes, all of which “took up valuable staff time and bewildered members of the public”, said Mr Fox.
Partner with law firm BLM, Steve Kuncewicz, said the case was “significant”.
“Wetherspoons had clearly exhausted all their options as this has been going on for years. It shows that brands are not entirely powerless, but they also have to consider whether they are going to war with their own fan base.
“I doubt this will be the last case like this we will see.”
Twitter does allow parody accounts, but only if they are clearly not attempting to impersonate official pages.
JD Wetherspoon runs 900 pubs around the UK and Ireland.