Ryanair has swooped to have a number of Facebook and Twitter accounts shut down after claiming the sites infringe the airline's rights.
The move has also led to allegations that the airline is attempting to silence a group that claims to represent about half of Ryanair's 2,500 pilots – the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG).
Ryanair confirmed to the Irish Independent that it has contacted both social networking giants in the past few weeks.
"We are currently applying to obtain all 'Ryanair' pages on all relevant social media outlets in order to prevent internet trolls masquerading as Ryanair," said a spokesman.
The Ryanair Pilot Group's Facebook page was shut down just over a week ago. That was on foot of a complaint made to Facebook that the site infringed Ryanair's intellectual property.
No prior notice was given to the RPG, according to the pilot group.
"It can only be assumed from these two exceptional events that there seems to be an orchestrated and deliberate attempt to silence the public voice of the Ryanair pilots," said Evert van Zwol, chairman of the RPG Interim Council. "Attempts to suppress social communications are not acceptable in 21st century Europe," he said. "Freedom of association and freedom of speech are basic human rights that nobody should have to seek from scratch or assert through the media or the courts."
He said pilots wouldn't be dissuaded from organising themselves due to "crude and out-dated attempts to curtail personal, social and media interaction".
But the RPG quickly moved to establish a new Facebook page. It's understood that the site is unlikely to fall foul of any intellectual property infringements.
RPG's Twitter account was suspended on Wednesday. Twitter declined to comment, but in a surprise twist, the RPG Twitter account was reactivated yesterday afternoon. The Twitter account contained a new disclaimer: "We are not affiliated with Ryanair Limited or any of its affiliated companies."
The Ryanair spokesman said the airline is evaluating the potential to establish its own social media presence.
Ryanair does not recognise unions and does not recognise the RPG either, which itself does not have union status.
"We don't comment on the Non-Ryanair Pilots Group which is a PR front for the pilot unions of competitor airlines," said a Ryanair spokesman.
Last month, the RPG formed its first council, which includes serving Ryanair pilot John Goss, who has been involved in previous efforts to negotiate with the carrier.
Ryanair will face a PR battle this Monday when Channel 4 airs a documentary it calls 'Secrets from the Cockpit'. The 'Dispatches' documentary claims to have uncovered "growing concerns about Ryanair's fuel policy and working practices".