Imposter accounts have amassed tens of thousands of followers while sending “abusive” replies to customers and posting false updates using the name “Tom” since 2014, the High Court was told.
JD Wetherspoon’s barrister David Hirst said one tweet claiming that staff would not be wearing poppies around Remembrance Day led to a man attending the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) and asking “very heated questions” of the board.
At a hearing in London on Thursday, Master Victoria McCloud ordered that Twitter – which did not oppose JD Wetherspoon’s application – disclose information relating to the identity of the operator of the fake account by mid-January.
Mr Hirst said the issue of fake accounts had been “an ongoing situation since 2014”, adding that the circumstances had been made “worse if anything” by the fact that JD Wetherspoon had taken down its official Twitter account in April.
The fake accounts, which are believed to be operated by a former employee, had “between 10,000 and 45,000 followers on each account”, which Mr Hirst said “goes to show that this poses a risk because it has interfered with business”.
He added: “When they [the operator] see somebody tweeting about Wetherspoon, generally they immediately, by using the search, tweet to those people something abusive.”
Master McCloud laughed as she read a tweet posted on July 11, the morning of England’s World Cup semi-final with Croatia, which read: “As it is England’s first World Cup semi-final since 1990, it looks like Gareth Southgate won’t be the only one wearing a waistcoat on Waistcoat Wednesday.
“Anyone wearing a waistcoat in ANY of our pubs will receive one free drink during the England-Croatia match.”
Mr Hirst also referred to a tweet posted two days earlier, which said: “When England reach the World Cup Final we’re gonna close all our pubs in England early at 3pm on Sunday 15th July. We want our colleagues to be the 12th man cheering on the lads.”
He said that that “did not come to pass because Croatia got in the way… but had it come to pass what could have been the biggest beer day in English history would have possibly not been for the chain”.
Mr Hirst said JD Wetherspoon “do not know who it is”, but added that “one working assumption for this is that it is an ex-employee”.
He said that “Twitter, to their credit, have recognised on each occasion that we have brought it to their attention that it is a breach of their terms”, but pointed out: “It has carried on for four years.”
A tweet posted by @Wetherspoon__UK on October 20 this year stated: “Due to the ever expanding multiculturalism of our clientele we will be taking no part in this year’s poppy appeal campaign and no staff will be permitted to wear a poppy or any other political paraphernalia while working. We appreciate your understanding and continued support.”
Mr Hirst said: “This stuff goes around [the internet] like wildfire.”
He added: “Some old boy from the (United) States… came to the AGM in London and asked some very heated questions of the board why this was the position.”
The court also heard that a crowdfunding page had been set up to “fund Tom’s legal costs when Spoons finally lose the rag and set their legal team on me”, which has raised £125.