The Day Twitter Destroyed a Gagging Order

Trafigura Trending

What a morning it has been. The phrase “historic moment” is desperately over-used, but it genuinely feels like one just occurred. A very old media process happened – a company got a gagging order on a national newspaper, to try and quash a negative story about them. And a disparate, disaggregated group of individuals were able to work out the basics of what happened, and use Twitter to make the gagging order meaningless. That was mass, connected journalism at its finest.

Here’s the rough sequence of events:

For those cynics who want to suggest that the sudden attention brought to the company on Twitter had nothing to do with the final outcome, Rusbridger’s opinion might be worth noting.

UPDATE: Useful background on the story over on

UPDATE 2: Fantastic piece of aggregation from Joanne, linking to coverage of Trafigura all over the web,

  • I agree. This has nothing to do with the Guardian and everything to do with press freedom. If, heaven forbid, it had been the Daily Mail I hope the story would’ve garnered a similar reaction.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a massive collision of old and new media. At least not been able to watch it/participate live. I could almost hear the fingernails of editors of major media outlets curling in frustration as they watched Twitter “report” what they could not 🙂


  • It’s certainly historic. It’s hard to imagine what it means. I’ve seen liberal blogs in the last couple of weeks applaud social media’s ability to break stories despite gagging orders.

    At the same time I’ve seen equally liberal blogs calling for privacy laws.

    It goes to show that you can have all the laws you like but they are fast becoming outdated. As nice as it is to stick it to the man – you can’t help but feel the laws were there for a reason and sooner or later there’ll be a deserving cause for them and they won’t work.

    I’m not saying that is good, bad or whatever. I haven’t got my head around it. But essentially everybody now potentially knows everything. And if legal binds are out of the window then so are libel laws (the good bits and the bad bits).

    So now there is nowhere for the corporates and politicians to hide from the people. But that goes both ways too. What’s to stop the people being the target of it too?

  • I suspect that it will be used to target an individual at some point. And that could be a good thing – but it could be a bad thing, too. Remember when the crowd got it wrong with #amazonfail?

    There’s no doubt that this shows that the current legal infrastructure around reporting restrictions is completely broken, though, because it’s designed for a small number of outlets – a narrow channel, not a broad one. Now the publishing channel is, essentially, infinitely wide, damming it is very, very hard. I suspect a ground-up rethink is needed.

  • “I suspect a ground-up rethink is needed.”

    Another one… Blimey.

    I suspect the reason this took on the life that it did – and did twitter really influence the legal brains of Carter-Ruck hmmmm… I doubt it – is because the case was so fundamentally ridiculous.

    I’m not sure this will force any change in media law of itself, but it might be the beginning of an end just by virtue of the legal irrelevance when people start talking and digging around online.

  • I doubt any one event like this has the power to change the glacial legal system. 🙂

    What will happen, I guarantee, is that we will see a succession of events like this over time, that make the impotence of the current laws clear, and then we’ll get an effort to “patch” them. And then, when that doesn’t work, an eventual re-think.

  • Robbo

    With English and Welsh law the decisions of courts are very important. I don’t think with the exceptions of criminal types of libel (which I think have been abolished) there is much if any statute law about this area. Because of this, the Judges make the law I guess Judges make judgements on the basis of their experience and on the basis of precedent.
    This gagging fiasco goes some way to showing Judges that society and media have changed and points up the limits of the law at the moment.

  • All incredibly exciting stuff. For me, very positive to precisely because it’s not a “clash between new and old media” but because it’s an example of traditional storygathering and storytelling propagated via new platforms.

  • LauraO

    Great news that this can now be reported on. 38 Degrees are currently running a campaign to stop this happening again. Take action now by emailing your MP and asking them to take a stand. Take action now, it only takes 2 mins. Go to:

  • It’s certainly not an “old versus new” story – but it’s more “old and new working in harmony” than you suggest. There are both traditional and brand new storytelling techniques at work here – but they can clearly reinforce each other,

  • Yes, that’s the point I thought I’d made. Sorry if it didn’t come across. Maybe we’re too used to disagreeing lol!

  • It’s possible, isn’t it? 😉

  • Good to hear now that the Guardian is able to report on the story now.38 Degrees are currently running a campaign on this. Take action now by emailing your MP and asking them to take a stand to stop this happening again in the future. Take action now, it only takes 2 mins. Go to:

  • A great round-up. I was up until 5am last night poring over the documents I found on Twitter. By the time I got to a computer again this afternoon it was all over. I’ve been so excited I felt like roaring round with balloons and doing whatever people did when World War II was over. Thank goodness that there is, at present, a way to circumvent gagging. I wonder how long it will last? At what point will these people be able to control Twitter and blogs too? Will we always manage to stay a step ahead of them?

    Anyway, congratulations to Carter-Ruck for making absolute idiots of themselves and their clients. Please could somebody enlighten me: What is all this about Newsnight being sued for their expose? People keep mentioning it on Twitter, but linking only to the expose itself, no mention of suing.

    Just wanted to say to all my fellow blogger/twitter comrades that it was a pleasure to write and fight with you! Wonderful work to all!

  • AndyB

    Of course, it’s not just the current legal infrastructure around reporting restrictions that’s completely broken by the ever-increasing width of the channel… =)

  • A wonderful result – we win one back.

    TITLE: Media140: The Unethical Web
    BLOG NAME: One Man and His Blog
    DATE: 09/15/2011 07:39:14 PM

    Liveblogging from the Media140 event on the unethical web

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