Diet Madison Avenue goes dark after $10 million defamation lawsuit is filed by former CP+B CCO

As first reported by Campaign, Ralph Watson, former chief creative officer of CP+B’s Boulder office, filed a defamation lawsuit against Diet Madison Avenue. The anonymous Instagram (and Twitter) accounts run under that name had several individuals involved in it, and the account has accused at least 150 people in the advertising industry of sexual harassment and other unethical behaviour at work. People accused by the Diet Madison Avenue account included The Martin Agency’s Joe Alexander, executives from Droga5, Wieden + Kennedy in London, and Publicis Seattle. They were all over the ad map. Ralph Watson was unceromously fired mere days after the Instagram account accused him of being a "predator". He penned an open letter in May comparing his options to Odysseus choice between Scylla or Charybdis, neither would be easy.

The judgment passed by DMA and the agency was both swift and devoid of any semblance of due process or the right to a fair trial, hearing, or anything close. My career and reputation were erased overnight without a shred of actual evidence in far less time than it takes to get a traffic court date to defend a parking ticket. I understand, and applaud, the wide net that has been cast, and it has caught some bad fish. I wholeheartedly agree that no one should be subjected to sexual harassment. But when that net is cast too wide, too indiscriminately, there is a real possibility that some dolphins will get hauled in with the tuna.

The suit, filed Tuesday in the Superior Court of California in the County of Los Angeles, seeks no less than $10 million in damages in addition to other costs and damages. The suit names Diet Madison Avenue and other defendants listed as "Jane Doe 1," "Jane Doe 2" and "Does 3 through 100." The suit claims defamation, intentional interference with contractual relations, intentional interference with prospective economic relations and negligent interference with prospective economic relations. The suit does not name the Jane Doe's, even though it suggests they know who they are, in order to protect their privacy at this time, but Watson intends to subpoena Instagram into revealing the identities of everyone involved.

Watson is seeking at least $10 million for "general and special damages to be proven at trial," as well as back pay, front pay, punitive damages, costs of the suit, attorney and expert witness fee and more. Watson has filed a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with the intent to sue CP+B for wrongdoing. Patrick Coffee of Adweek spoke to DIet Madison Avenue and got this statement from them;

“Ultimately we believe its a freedom of speech issue,” read a message sent by the DMA account in response to a request for comment. “We have not engaged in any criminal activities. We have published third party information as is.” The account stated that in order for the identities of its contributors to be revealed, Instagram would have to collaborate with the legal team representing Watson, adding, “That will mean serious consequences for the millions who use Instagram’s platform.” The lawsuit cites Instagram Terms of Use, Community Guidelines and Privacy Policies forbidding “unlawful, misleading or fraudulent” content that “targets private individuals to degrade or shame them … or harass someone.” The same regulations state that Instagram may preserve user information “in response to a legal request.” According to Instagram’s law enforcement guidelines, “a valid subpoena issued in connection with an official criminal investigation is required to compel the disclosure of basic subscriber records” such as names, email addresses and IP addresses. The DMA account stated that it has legal representation and that the case “will set a precedent for what is and is not permitted on this platform during this #metoo era.”

As already noted, Instagram's terms of service states that illegal activity isn't magically allowed just because it takes place on an internet app. As does everyone elses term's of service but people never read those things.... To Campaign, the spokesperson for Diet Madison Avenue stated; "We have legal representation. It will be fascinating to see how Instagram deals with this issue – and how they deal with users' privacy and freedom of speech on their platform. It will set a precedent for what is and is not permitted on this platform during the #MeToo era." Campaign also notes that "Diet Madison Avenue strongly urges the legal teams involved to contact the Electronic Frontier Front – a non-profit that defends digital privacy, free speech and innovation. " "Similar suits have always been dropped," the spokesperson for Diet Madison Avenue added, and I really wish Campaign had asked for examples before the accounts went dark, because I can honestly not recall a similar suit happenening.

As for the EFF, they spent a lot of time recently telling everyone in the world to stop using PGP, because there's a flaw cutesly named "Efail" out there - complete with its own domain and fun logo. PGP is a way to encrypt your emails, and if you encrypt your emails you are pretty security conscious in general, which means you probably don't run HTML emails at all. Or at the very least, you do not allow for remote loading of images (as most mailprograms are set to not allow by default) because a tracking sprite really defeats the purpose of "secure." If you are one of those unusual fellas who allows for remote loads & HTML in your encrypted email, poor S/MIME handling leaves you open to this vunerability. These people can probably be counted on one hand. That's not a reason to stop encryptng your emails. That's a reason to turn off HTML or at the very least not load remote images, which again, most email readers already do by default. Bizarrely, the EFF have written countless articles encouraging people to skip encryption all together now in an era of increased surveillance. This is the group that Diet Madison Avenue want to step up to the plate for them. You guys aren't playing the same league at all, you're not even playing the same ballgame.

After the advertising news reported on this suit, from The Drum to Ad Age, the Diet Madison Avenue Instagram and Twitter accounts went dark, as did the website. Adweek reports that there was an exchange of messages posted to the stories on Instagram before it vanished, which included accusations against an unnamed man. Diet Madison Avenue comment to it was “This is all we have to say about the news. We have always gained our courage by the brave ones who have openly and honestly come forward. We stand by them until the end. Above post is shared with permission.” Only with the accuser's permission, as this defamation lawsuit will have no problem showing.

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