From behind its paywall The Times gets hissy about free speech being free
On Sunday, an anonymous user of Twitter, the social messaging network, posted a list of what were purported to be superinjunctions pertaining to various celebrities. It serves to highlight two parallel universes of information. In one, thanks to the huge, rambling chaos of the internet, speech is becoming ever more free. In the other, thanks to English judges, it is becoming less so.
The internet is an unstoppable democratising force, but its effect here has been to turn a small hypocrisy into an enormous one. There have always been small communities in which people trade gossip or truths that the law deems unsuitable for publication or broadcast. Twitter is not one of them. At the time of writing, 43,000 users follow these superinjunction tweets. This rivals the circulation of some popular magazines.
This is neither an academic nor a trivial matter. The Times opposes the growing use of superinjunctions and sheds no tears to see them publicly exposed as intellectually hollow. Yet to consider this primarily an issue of privacy versus press freedom would be to navel-gaze. It raises larger, more important issues about the extent to which the law should, or even can, extend to the internet.
The Wild West nature of the internet is not inherently bad. The supranational natures of Twitter and Facebook helped to facilitate the Arab Spring. In China, Google’s refusal to compromise its ethos caused the company to withdraw from the country. Yet it does not follow, from the internet’s beneficial effect in avoiding bad laws, that it should be exempt from good ones.
It cannot be the case that social networking platforms should have no responsibility whatsoever over that for which they are used.
They would say that, wouldn't they.