It's becoming more and more difficult for traditional gatekeepers like the government to control the flow of information to the people. In years past when the authorities issued a "gag order" against the media, they could easily enforce it. Not the case in today's social media world!
Last month, a British judge ruled that material obtained by The Guardian journalist about a multinational corporation had to be kept secret. The issue pertained to Trafigura, a shipping company who paid a local operator in the Ivory Coast to dispose of waste that ended up killing eight people.
Unlike other such injunctions, this "gag order" applied to the existence of the injunction itself. In other words, The Guardian was forbidden to report that is was being "gagged."
This circuitous logic regarding this type of "superinjunction" has been imposed a number of times in the past according to British newspapers, when corporate lawyers ask a judge to not release confidential communication. In this case, Trafigura wanted the incident sealed based on further testing of the Ivory Coast water.
However, three days after the injunction, the Internet's netizens seized the opportunity to expose what many felt was a cover-up and an injustice. It began with the full report appearing on the whistle-blower Web sites Wikileaks.
Wikileaks and the Gag Order
The Guardian in turn has vowed to overturn the gag order. Editor, Alan Rusbridger, said: "The media laws in this country increasingly place newspapers in a Kafkaesque world in which we cannot tell the public anything about information which is being suppressed, nor the proceedings which suppress it. It is doubly menacing when those restraints include the reporting of parliament itself."
Rusbridger subsequently tweeted his displeasure.
Alan Rusbridger Tweet regarding gag order
In addition to using Twitter, other empathetic readers utilized Google's new tool, the SideWiki to post comments about the controversy on the Web sites of Trafigura and its law firm, Carter-Ruck. Since these comments can only be seen by those that have uploaded SideWiki to their browser tool bar, the following have been pulled by The Guardian as examples of the negative feedback pouring as SideWiki comments.
Google SideWiki and the Gag Order
In the face of all this controversy, Trafigura agreed to allow The Guardian to report on the parliamentary issue, but insisted that the document remain enjoined. This led to some additional hand-wringing by the Twitterverse including calls for civil disobedience by British journalists to tweet more about the injustice being played out. This then prompted The Guardian's technology editor, Charles Arthur to comment on his personal dilemma with this issue
Charles Arthur Tweet regarding Wikileaks and gag order
Twitter, and the Social Media in general have once again shaken up the status quo. The tools of Web 2.0 have emerged as a powerful force in correcting wrongs controlled in the past by a strong arm of the government. Breaking new legal ground as a result vis a vis this new media channel is very encouraging for the little guy who traditionally has had a hard time fighting 'city hall.' Simlar to the British case involving a 'landmark tweet' that helped expose an impostor in early October, this is just the beginning of a new era of user-generated content and how it can make a difference in the legal arena around the globe.
Clay Bennett Cartoon