#ctb or not #ctb, that is the question
Twitter is in the news, but not in ways it particularly intended. Caught up in a media storm about the naming of footballer known only as
Ryan Giggs #ctb, it hit the big time when #ctb's lawyers served it with a notice to reveal the identity of people revealing his identity.
Heavyweight lawyers going after a young, popular internet company on an issue of free speech is never going to work, and one of the things that this case demonstrates is that good advice can be hard to come by in the internet world, especially from those that do not inhabit it too frequently. Clearly, they had not heard of the Streisand effect , where attempts to remove or hide information serve only to make it much more prominent.
However, the whole affair (!) raises many more serious issues than which footballer slept with which reality t.v. star. Firstly, we don't really care. We do want to know, of course - salacious gossip keeps the office spinning round, and if it's footy, reality t.v. and sex, all the better - but we don't remember it, refer back to it, or have it affect our lives in any significant way. It's much less important than the weekend's football score, or the price of petrol, or anything else even minor that occurs in our own lives.
More critically, it brings the relationship between the law and technology into sharper focus. With international media, national laws are not going to be relevant. With digital media accessible to all, allowing almost anyone to communicate anything to the world, laws protecting things such as copyright, privacy, and free speech need to be reframed into fundamental principles that vast majorities can agree on. In addition, they may need to be policed in new, social ways - though policing and law-making is always by the consent of the people (in the end at least).
It also demonstrates spurious arguments from both sides: a public figure who, effectively, charges many millions of people to watch his every move on the football field, complains that his family may suffer because of media intrusion. True - but they probably suffer more because of his infidelity. Newspapers claim gagging orders are unfair and disrupt their right to free speech in the public interest. But it's not - it's in the papers' interest to allow it to sell more copies: it's not that important. Trafigura dumping waste that poisons thousands of people: that's in the public interest. Sleaze to sell newspapers in the public interest - not really.
It also highlights the irresponsibility of MPs, abusing parliamentary privilege to name #ctb within the injunction-proof confines of the house - MPs are supposed to make the law, not break it, and whilst the argument of speaking out when injunctions are going too far is a good one, that is not a professional or respectful way to deal with it. There seems little doubt that injunction use is going too far, and is biased towards those that can afford it: Lady Justice may be blind, but she seems easily swayed by large sums of money, and that doesn't seem balanced or fair.
There are clearly a lot of significant issues that have to be addressed. I just wonder whether the politicians, media, lawyers, and 'celebrities' will go back to business as usual once all this has blown over. In a couple of months, we won't care if Giggsy slept with a Welsh model - will we care about the deeper issues either?
Actual injunction published, which makes for interesting reading on the balancing act that the courts are involved in.