When All Time Low filed a libel lawsuit last February denying anonymous claims of alleged sex abuse, the pop-punk band said it planned to use the court’s subpoena power in an aggressive bid to unmask its accusers.
This week, a Los Angeles judge sided with the band members and gave Twitter 10 days to hand over “identifying information” for Jane Doe 2, the person behind the account that posted the lengthy statement in October 2021 — the most detailed first-person account of alleged abuse referenced in the lawsuit.
In the post, someone using the handle @ATLstatement claimed to be a woman who was sexually abused by the band’s lead guitarist, Jack Barakat, in 2011, when she was 15 years old and he was 22.
“Plaintiffs cannot proceed with litigation without identifying Doe 2,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Daniel S. Murphy wrote in his new ruling obtained by Rolling Stone.
Judge Murphy stated that while the right to publish anonymously is protected by the First Amendment, freedom of speech does not extend to defamation. That means plaintiffs who file “legally sufficient” lawsuits have a right to “discover” the identities of their alleged defamers.
“Here, the complaint states a valid claim because it sets forth the exact statements alleged to be defamatory, alleges that they are false, and alleges that defendants made the statements with actual malice,” Judge Murphy wrote.
“Plaintiffs deny under oath the accusations made in Doe 2’s Twitter post,” he continued. “Damage is presumed without the need for proof in libel per se cases where a statement is defamatory on its face, such as accusations of sexual assault. Nonetheless, plaintiffs allege that they have lost reputation, goodwill, and lost revenue. Therefore, the complaint states a valid claim for libel per se.”
Twitter fought the subpoena as a matter of internal policy, saying it would only hand over Doe 2’s identity if served with a court order.
The social media giant previously served notice of the lawsuit to Doe 2 without coughing up a name or contact details. When Doe 2 failed to reply by a court deadline, lawyers for All Time Low asked Twitter to hand over the identifying information.
“The court finds that Doe 2 has been adequately notified and given an opportunity to respond,” Judge Murphy wrote. “Within 10 days, Twitter is to provide the requested identifying information for Doe 2.”
Lawyers for All Time Low declined to comment Friday.
All four founding members of All Time Low are listed as plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit that was filed last year including Barakat, singer and guitarist Alex Gaskarth, bass player Zack Merrick, and drummer Rian Dawson. The Doe defendants include at least three people who claimed in anonymous social media posts that one or more group members committed or were complicit in the grooming and sexual abuse of fans, including minors.
The Maryland-bred quartet issued an all-caps statement in October 2021 calling the online claims “absolutely and unequivocally false.”
“We are investigating further the source of these false accusations and will be seeking legal recourse as we take these allegations very seriously. With that in mind, we want to say again, we stand with victims and always wish to amplify the voices and stories of those who have suffered abuse and trauma. But we cannot and will not fuel or amplify lies that only cloud and distort the true stories of those who need to be heard and represented,” the statement from All Time Low read.
The nine-page complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court said the band wanted to “quash these malicious lies so that they won’t be repeated in the future.”
The allegations against the band started to go viral late last year after Doe 1, a TikTok user, posted a cryptic message under the name @mini.grew that claimed “a famous pop punk band” offered her beer on a tour bus and asked for her bra “for their nasty collection” when she was 13.
The post didn’t explicitly name the band but “gave easily solved clues” that led to a consensus the group was All Time Low, the band’s lawsuit said.
According to the complaint, a Twitter user named @spidahkii quickly stepped forward to refute Doe 1’s allegations. She claimed to have attended the concert with Doe 1, shared a photo purportedly showing them at the event and said Doe 1’s claims “never happened.” The lawsuit claims Doe 1 then admitted she posted her statements “to be petty towards a peer” and made her video private.
A couple weeks later, @ATLstatement posted the subsequent allegations that Barakat sexually assaulted her over a period of years beginning when she was a minor.
Later that same month, another Twitter user with the handle @dietsodasage posted a tweet claiming to have counted 97 allegations against the band. “If 97 people aren’t enough then I don’t know what to tell you,” the user, identified as Doe 3, wrote.
“Without any evidence whatsoever, Doe 3 egregiously and falsely claimed that ‘97 allegations’ had been made against the band, an accusation that spread like wildfire on the Internet,” the lawsuit claimed.
The Twitter account has since been deactivated, but the lawsuit includes a screen grab of a post attributed to @dietsodasage that reads, “I feel kind of weird about how people took my tweet about the atl situation :/ I didn’t mean for things to go like that so I’m probably going to stay priv for a few days.”
In a recent court filing, Twitter said it doesn’t have identifying information for @dietsodasage.
David M. Ring, an attorney representing a Harvey Weinstein accuser in his Los Angeles criminal case told Rolling Stone that defamation lawsuits like the one filed by All Time Low amount to “bold power plays” and open up a two-way street of legal scrutiny.
“This is not something that any individual would walk into lightly. I guarantee they have been advised that by bringing a lawsuit, they’re opening themselves up to discovery that would include all of the allegations that were made online,” Ring said last year. “By bringing a lawsuit, it appears they’re entering willingly, knowing there’s going to be investigations into their background, and they don’t care. Apparently, they’re not afraid.”