The past week or so, I’ve been following an odd legal issue in the UK involving a football star who was caught having an affair with a television personality. But the tabloid details are the least interesting part of this story.
It seems the lawyers for the footballer convinced a magistrate to issue something called a “super-injunction“, a legal order that forbids anyone from publishing anything “confidential or private” about the applicant or the case, and effectively banning “reporting that the injunction itself even exists”.
That worked fine for the traditional news outlets but fell apart when someone posted his identity on Twitter. Â Of course, the name was quickly re-tweeted hundreds of times and the British legal system, not to mention their media outlets, was outraged.
Websites such as Twitter have put a huge strain on the ability of the courts to enforce gagging orders and it has been widely assumed there is no legal redress against them.
The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week that digital media had made an ass of the law and it was hard to enforce injunctions against Twitter because it was incorporated in the United States.
Now it seems the law is about to be tested.
So, should the law (British or otherwise) consider Twitter to be a “publisher”, similar to the BBC or the Sun newspaper, and subject to a gag order from a court?
Is Twitter responsible for monitoring – and censoring – legally questionable material posted by it’s users?
This is not the first time that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites have been the focus of similar privacy controversies (Twitter is also currently involved in a British libel case), and it probably won’t be the last.
However, maybe a better question about government-enforced secrecy efforts would be… In an age of instant, ubiquitous, world-wide social media, is a gag order like this even remotely enforceable?