Diet Madison Avenue Goes Dark After News of Defamation Suit

Social media accounts and website disappear overnight

Black and red script reading Diet Madison Avenue.
The anonymous account started in late 2017. Diet Madison Avenue
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Anonymous industry whistleblower account Diet Madison Avenue effectively disappeared last night, several hours after news of a civil defamation suit filed against the entity went live in the advertising trade press.

As of approximately 10 p.m. last night, its Instagram and Twitter accounts had been shut down, and its WordPress domain is now “parked.” Today, the Instagram account is private but seems to have been reset with no posts and no followers.

Before disappearing, the account posted an Instagram Story featuring what appeared to be an exchange of text messages between two individuals. It included accusations against an unnamed man as well as a message reading: “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.”

Yesterday, Adweek and several other trade publications reported that a lawyer representing former CP+B Chief Creative Officer Ralph Watson had filed suit accusing the DMA account, and two “Jane Does” allegedly associated with it, of defamation. Watson’s lawyer said he plans to subpoena the Facebook-owned platform, citing unspecified “California legal precedent.”

The address formerly listed on DMA’s profiles has not returned an email seeking comment today, and it is unclear at this time whether the individuals managing the accounts deleted them voluntarily. An Instagram spokesperson declined to comment.

This is not the first time DMA has disappeared since its first post in late 2017. In early March, the Instagram account went dark for several hours on the same day that a group of women working on the production side of the business posted a letter calling for the group to “dramatically change [its] tactics” or shut down altogether.

The account later reappeared, and at the time a spokesperson for the Facebook-owned platform told Adweek, “Instagram did not disable the account.” The reasons for the shutdown remain unclear.

Diet Madison Avenue, which has described itself as “17 ad junkies exposing Madison Ave sexual harassment & discrimination since Oct 2017, cuz HR won’t,” started quietly on Instagram but gained greater attention after publishing, on Instagram Stories, a list of several prominent men that it implicitly accused of sexual harassment. In many cases, the account did not include specifics regarding the claims made against these individuals. It later posted on the firings of multiple executives, some of whom had appeared on the initial list.

The account reportedly went quiet in recent weeks but became more active in the days surrounding the first meetings of advocacy group Time’s Up Advertising, which formed after the aforementioned accusations sparked a larger conversation about harassment, gender balance and perceived abuses of power in advertising.

Several prominent women in the industry who spoke to Adweek on condition of anonymity in recent weeks and months have expressed mixed feelings regarding DMA.

You need something so provocative to bring seismic change,” said an agency executive before adding significant caveats: “If we look back on any movement, there was always some sort of catastrophic event where people think, don’t you wish you could have handled this with a little more sophistication? For many of us, that was our first reaction to DMA … and we still feel that way.”

For women active in the Time’s Up movement, one goal is to make initiatives like DMA unnecessary by creating safe working environments where female employees are well represented in leadership and are empowered to speak up without fear of retaliation or being ostracized. “If we own up to it, DMA goes away,” the agency executive said, “because then we are doing the job we should have been doing the whole time.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.