So the background first: Giant oil business Trafigura is accused of dumping toxic waste off the Ivory coast of Africa, allegedly causing harm to the local population that frequents those shores. In most countries the legal system has not bothered to hear Trafigura’s claims that it’s been libeled. But the UK still has libel laws which were written over a hundred years ago. These are more than friendly to the “injured” party. Thus wealthy companies and individuals regularly mount actions there that other countries wouldn’t even give 5 minutes of court time because they are so blatantly self-seeking. In the last couple of days The Guardian newspaper was subject to a judge’s gagging order preventing it from even reporting the fact that a question about Trafigura had been asked in Parliament, traditionally outside the constraints of gagging orders and libel law. This potentially set a huge and backward precedent.
What happens next? The gagging order, links to Wikileaks and plenty of other information about the case was repeated on Twitter. Last night and today the entire issue trended on Twitter with hashtags including #guardiangag #guardian #carterruck (Carter Ruck was the law firm representing Trafigura) and of course #Trafigura.
With the traditional media gagged, the new media had kicked in. That created a story which plenty of trad media outlets and blogs outside the UK could not ignore and started reporting on.
In other words, this kind of censorship is over. And I hope that British Libel law will change as a result. It must now move into the 21st Century and reflect new technology. After all, there is now a new defence. Feel libelled? You can defend your case just as much as the other guy online. Except of course if you are dumb enough not to register @carterruck, for instance.
The below map is from Trendsmap.
And in another display of this massive wave of people power, here’s two videos of a time-lapse of Twitter trends captured by Twitscoop.