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From behind its paywall The Times gets hissy about free speech being free

Tweet and Be Damned | The Times (£)

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.

Comments

It cannot be the case that social networking platforms should have no responsibility whatsoever over that for which they are used.

What is being said on Twitter is no different from many conversations in public bars up and down the land. Are we to hold landlords responsible for the subjects of discussion chosen by their patrons?

Besides the whole episode caters for our love of a good whodunnit. It's like a game of Reverse Cluedo for the whole nation - who did Miss Scarlett do in the library with a large, black, vibrating ...? Well, you get the idea.

The issue comes down to one of Is twitter the same as a newspaper? Whilst I can't think of an exact simile my gut instinct is to say no for the reason The Remittance Man outlines above. Does a newsagent share responsibility for the content of the publications it sells?

When The Times says "Yet to consider this primarily an issue of privacy versus press freedom would be to navel-gaze." and ignore the most serious issue. It is an issue of freedom of the other party to be held responsible for what they say and do. eg Helen Wood's claims - she should be able to make them and if they are false let the wronged men sue her. eg the Social Services cases - if the parents who have had children taken from them are lying then let the Councils sue them. What we have with these super injunctions is a pre-emptive injustice to avoid embarrassment or awkward questions.

As for " There have always been small communities in which people trade gossip or truths that the law deems unsuitable for publication or broadcast." Yes. People in the publishing and broadcasting industries. They cannot dine out on gossip if everyone already knows it.

"it does not follow, from the internet’s beneficial effect in avoiding bad laws, that it should be exempt from good ones"

Well, there's no mechanism to make it exempt from bad laws only. It can be exempt from your laws but not my laws, if my army is strong enough, but never from bad laws but not good laws.

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