Three years after the Occupy Wall Street movement began, an unlikely conflict has emerged over one of the cause’s most precious tools: a Twitter account.
During the primacy of the Occupy movement in New York, people across the country followed @OccupyWallStNYC and other social media accounts to track the latest developments, from encampments to conflicts. Now one group of activists is accusing a former comrade of taking unilateral control of the shared account and locking out the organizers he had once collaborated with.
According to a lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the Twitter account was created in summer 2011 by Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that first called for an occupation of Wall Street. The resulting protests began on Sept. 17, 2011.
Adbusters turned the account over to Marisa Holmes, the lawsuit said, a filmmaker and activist who had helped to moderate Occupy meetings in August 2011 in Tompkins Square Park. Ms. Holmes, in turn, gave others access to the account, which now has 177,000 followers.
But in August, Justin Wedes, one of those with access, changed the passwords and locked out his fellow administrators, according to the lawsuit.
“Each and every day that goes by while Wedes remains in control of the Twitter account is another day of plaintiff’s lost opportunity to speak to the Twitter audience that they worked to cultivate and rightly should control,” the suit states.
Mr. Wedes did not respond to requests for comment via phone or email. But in a blog post dated four days after the lockout, he wrote that he disbanded the collective of administrators because relationships among the group had become fractious.
“Clearly the question of ownership of the account is a contentious one, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” he wrote, adding that he planned to put the account “in the hands of responsible stewards.”
Ms. Holmes had a different recollection of events, saying that other members of the collective were about to vote Mr. Wedes out of the group.
“The key point is that it was a collaborative project, but he didn’t get that,” she said. “Justin was censoring other people and promoting his own work.”
The account was dormant for about a week, she said. But then the posts began again, apparently written by Mr. Wedes. Some promoted large-scale events like a climate march planned for this weekend in New York. Others referred to projects connected to Mr. Wedes, like a campaign in Detroit protesting the city’s decision to shut off water to residents with unpaid water bills.
Over the years there have been lawsuits between companies and employees about control of Twitter accounts. But the recent suit would appear to present a rare instance of that type of squabble among members of a political protest movement, let alone one that was created largely through the use of social media.
The suit is asking the court to order Mr. Wedes to turn over control of the Twitter account to OWS Media Group. The suit also seeks $500,000 in compensatory damages, and requests an injunction forbidding Mr. Wedes from turning over control of the account to anyone else or sending further messages from the account.
Mr. Wedes did not appear ready to comply. Not long after the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, the account offered a new post: “Lawyers are the tools of the 1% and their children. We believe in class war.”
The message was deleted less than an hour after it had been posted.