The Anonymous ‘Diet Madison Avenue’ Social Media Whistleblowers Could Be Unmasked Within a Week

Lawyer suing account's creators expects Instagram to identify them

Silver soda can with black and red script reading Diet Madison Avenue.
Former CPB chief creative officer Ralph Watson sued 5 anonymous people in January. Diet Madison Avenue
Headshot of Erik Oster

The identities of anonymous activists who’ve operated online under the name Diet Madison Avenue could soon be revealed by Facebook and Instagram as part of a defamation lawsuit filed against the account’s creators.

In a letter filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on Monday, the lawyer representing former CPB chief creative officer Ralph Watson claimed Facebook and Instagram will provide identifying information “within the next week” regarding the people behind Diet Madison Avenue, the anonymous industry whistleblower social media account dedicated to “exposing sexual harassment and discrimination” in advertising.

In the letter to United States District Judge John G. Koeltl, attorney Michael Ayotte requested that an upcoming hearing, currently scheduled for April 22, be delayed 60 days, allowing him time to “receive the requested discovery that is expected to be produced this week”—meaning the identities of the anonymous account’s administrators.

The controversial account, which operated mostly through Instagram, shook the industry in 2018 with a series of sexual harassment and assault allegations against multiple prominent male executives. Diet Madison Avenue abruptly shut down and then reappeared in March 2018, shortly after a group of women in advertising circulated a letter criticizing its approach to making allegations of sexual harassment. The account later went dark following the initiation of Watson’s litigation before reappearing as a reset private Instagram account. The anonymous group described itself as “17 ad junkies exposing Madison Ave sexual harassment & discrimination since Oct. 2017, cuz HR won’t.”

Watson filed separate suits in Los Angeles and New York last year accusing unnamed “Jane Doe” individuals of defaming him in January 2018 by describing him in a series of Diet Madison Avenue Instagram Stories posts as a “predator” who “targeted and groomed” young women. Cases were filed in both California and New York, and Watson believes the defendants are based throughout the country, including in California, New York and Illinois.

Watson later sued his former employer and its parent company, MDC Partners, for wrongful termination and “reverse sex discrimination,” claiming he was fired as “a direct result of Diet Madison Avenue’s false statements, pressure and interference.”

In response to the latter filing, CPB and MDC Partners claimed the executive had been terminated for cause, referring to a series of “emails that were sent by Mr. Watson to female employees.”

Today, an MDC Partners spokesperson reaffirmed the company’s position.

“CPB still stands by its decision to terminate Mr. Watson’s employment for cause following an appropriate investigation,” she said. “MDC Partners and CPB will continue to vigorously defend themselves and their employees against the litigation commenced by Mr. Watson in June 2018. We remain highly confident that we will ultimately prevail in this matter.”

CPB declined to provide further comment.

A. Louis Dorny, a partner at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, which is defending Diet Madison Avenue in the case, also declined to comment.

“We respond to valid legal requests but don’t comment on specific cases,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement.

Facebook and Google have not responded to requests for comment, and Ayotte has not responded to requests for comment.

The Diet Madison Avenue Instagram account, which has been inactive for approximately six months, did not respond to a direct message seeking comment.

The requests to identify those associated with Diet Madison Avenue stem from the original suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in May 2018.

Watson successfully obtained a court order to issue subpoenas to Facebook, Instagram and Google in order to identify those behind Diet Madison Avenue’s allegedly defamatory posts in July 2018. An anonymous defendant identified as Doe 3 unsuccessfully sought to quash the subpoenas.

On Feb. 1, 2019, the court granted Doe 3 a protective order while also narrowing the scope of the subpoenas to Jan. 19 and Jan. 25, 2018 (the dates of the allegedly defamatory statements), and issued a stay on any production of the information until Feb. 28. A further extension of that stay was granted until March 15. On March 13, the defendants’ attempt to appeal the decision was denied.

Because of the lifting of the stay in the Los Angeles Superior Court case, the plaintiff  “expects to receive the requested identifying information within the next week.”

The full document submitted to the S.D.N.Y. is embedded below:

Additional reporting was provided by Patrick Coffee.

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
Publish date: April 5, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT