Twitter Has Been Ordered to Reveal an Anonymous Account’s Identity to a Far-Right Blogger

Twitter has 14 days to hand over the name and email address attached to the account to far-right internet personality Avi Yemini.
People in crowd looking at photo of avi yemini
Photo by Guy Smallman / Getty Images

An Australian court has ordered Twitter to supply far-right internet personality Avi Yemini with the name and email address registered to the account @PRGuy17 as part of Yemini’s effort to launch defamation action against the anonymous poster. 

The order was made by the Federal Court of Australia on Tuesday, and will force Twitter to hand over the name, email address, and IP addresses associated with the account on the date the account was created. Twitter will also have to supply Yemini with the IP addresses associated with tweets posted by @PRGuy17 between December 31 last year and February 11 this year, as well as those posted between March 21 and May 20 this year.

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The outcome comes after lawyers for Yemini and the far-right news blog, Rebel News, filed proceedings in the Federal Court in February to compel Twitter to reveal @PRGuy’s identity, so that both Yemini and Rebel News could launch libel action against the account for “defamation imputations” Yemini alleges were made against him on Twitter.

Among the tweets include claims that Yemini was a “threat to Australia’s national security” through the thick of lockdowns across Victoria at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that he was a “criminal” that either caused or contributed to “surging COVID-19 cases” and ongoing lockdowns in Melbourne, where Yemini is based. 

Twitter now has 14 days to oblige with the order, which will also require Yemini to drop his action against Twitter. On Twitter, Yemini described the order as a win.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protests it spawned, has been a boon for both Yemini and Rebel News.

The right-wing media outlet—which was founded in Canada, in 2015—has been able to increase its reach exponentially as a result, growing its online presence to 730,000 subscribers, outpacing some of Australia’s leading traditional news outlets. The website’s local outpost is estimated to earn up to $21,000 a month.

A big part of that growth in Australia, experts say, were the Canberra convoy protests staged earlier this year, as other “freedom” movement trucker convoys like it were set in motion through capital cities around the world. 

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According to analysis conducted by the Queensland University of Technology Digital Media Research Centre for the Guardian, both the Rebel News Twitter account, and its Australian counterpart, became the two largest creators of Canberra convoy-related content on the platform. 

Over on Facebook, the news blog leaned heavily on the convoy to drive interactions and drive audience growth. That same set of analysis found that interactions spiked “considerably” to 95,000 in the week to February 5 this year, almost double the week before, and triple the page’s weekly figures in the 12 months leading up to it. 

At the time, Facebook said it had removed some of Rebel News’s COVID-19 content for breaching its misinformation and harm policies. It wasn’t the first time the news outlet had toyed with misinformation, and for Yemini, it’s long been a feature of his work.

The far-right, pro-Israel, anti-Islamic provocateur rose to prominence in the collective conscience of mainstream Australia around 2017, amid the bubbling wave of populism that trickled through western countries around the world at the height of the Trump presidency.

Some of the earliest media attention Yemini attracted was at a “Make Victoria Great Again Rally”, in 2017, where he—a reported veteran of the Israeli Defence Force—appeared alongside roughly 60 of his supporters to protest the state’s handling of “law and order” issues, before being met with a contingent of antifascist protestors in Melbourne’s CBD.

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He quickly became a torchbearer for any number of reactionary, far-right nationalist causes and the leader of the only far-right party to contest the 2018 Victorian state election, before going on to become one of the most visible figureheads among Australia’s anti-lockdown “freedom” movement.

More recently, his work at Rebel News has included accosting World Health Organisation officials at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, and misrepresenting government policy on any number of topics.

Like Yemini, @PRGuy17’s rise was also signal-boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic—and the state-wide lockdowns that ensued. But the account came to represent contrasting ideas.

Twitter lore—and, perhaps Yemini himself—would have it that the @PRGuy17 account is run by a Labor party government operative living in Victoria, acting as a sort of psyop to spruik the COVID-19 response strategies established by the state’s government, led by premier Daniel Andrews. 

Late last month, a GoFundMe page was created calling for funds to buy @PRGuy17 “a beer”. The page, which at time of writing has so far raised $18,233 in donations, later became the target of widespread criticism, after it was revealed that the funds would go towards the account owner’s legal fees. 

The account’s owner has yet to say anything about the Federal Court order, and has been reached by VICE for comment. 

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