What started as a joke on social media has become no laughing matter in court, as a prominent Newfoundland fitness trainer is suing a man he believes is behind social media parody accounts.
Rob King of Heavyweights Training Centre claims the online mockery has crossed into defamation.
King is now asking a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge to issue court orders forcing Twitter and Facebook — along with internet service providers Rogers and Bell Aliant — to hand over data that could unmask his online tormentor.
But the subject of the ongoing defamation suit swears he is not Fake Rob King, and is fighting the request.
Some of the companies involved have also expressed concern about handing over data.
Twitter, Facebook parody accounts
On Twitter, Fake Rob King has posted more than 3,000 times over the past two-plus years.
The tweets are a torrent of sarcasm and mockery about the real Rob King's fitness and training business, and ongoing legal troubles.
As first reported by CBC News, King is facing three counts under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for illegally exporting ephedrine into the United States.
- Rob King committed to trial on ephedrine export charges
- Heavyweights warned about ephedrine sales in 2006
- Cross-border ephedrine shipments spark police probe
In addition to Twitter's Fake Rob King, there was another parody account on Facebook called "Knob Schwing's Heftywaists Shaming Centre."
It has since been deleted, but listed Knob Schwing's personal interests as "lying, scamming, cheating” and used the words cokehead, bullshitter, plagiarist, fornicator and coward in reference to King.
In court documents, King called those statements malicious, defamatory and untrue.
Identity of parody creator
After more than two years of online tormenting, King believes he now knows the identity of Fake Rob King.
He has launched a defamation lawsuit against Ken Power, a tattoo artist based in Conception Bay South.
Under questioning by King's lawyer, Power acknowledged that he dislikes King, that he has insulted King on Facebook, and that he has linked to insulting posts made by Fake Rob King.
But under oath, he has denied being behind the parody accounts — "unequivocally, hang upside down … not Fake Rob King," Power said during a discovery examination last summer.
During that hearing, King's lawyer asked about a tweet from Fake Rob King — a tweet containing an image of a legal document that was served in person to Power.
Power said he corresponds with Fake Rob King through direct messages on Twitter, and sent the image to let him know about the lawsuit.
Power said he hopes Fake Rob King will come forward, reveal his identity, and take him off the hook.
But that hasn't happened.
Court order sought for digital data
Now, King's lawyers are going after more evidence.
They've served notice to Facebook, Twitter, Bell Aliant and Rogers, demanding potential identifying information connected to the parody accounts.
Facebook, Bell Aliant and Rogers indicated they will only provide that data if they receive an appropriate court order.
'Even if you succeed in obtaining a court order from the presiding Canadian court, the order will be insufficient to compel Twitter to disclose records.' - Nicola Menaldo of law firm Perkins Coie
But Twitter said it won't help unmask Fake Rob King unless ordered by a court in the United States.
"Even if you succeed in obtaining a court order from the presiding Canadian court, the order will be insufficient to compel Twitter to disclose records," lawyer Nicola Menaldo, of Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie LLP, wrote on behalf of Twitter, in a letter included with the Newfoundland court filings.
Twitter is also objecting to the request because a U.S. court has not issued an order on First Amendment filings, about the right to free speech.
"The account seems to be a parody and may not contain speech considered defamatory in the United States," Menaldo's letter notes.
The matter is scheduled to be heard Wednesday in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, where the judge’s ultimate decision could possibly determine which Rob King gets the last laugh.