in Kulturkampf

Trafigura Meets Gibson’s Law

The future, wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way with you. The future will find you out. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did. Gibson’s Law

Oil trading company Trafigura figured no one would notice if they dumped toxic waste off the Ivory Coast. But 31,000 sickened Africans were too hard for the British Guardian and Parliament to ignore. Trafigura responded by getting a court gag order on the newspaper to prevent them from reporting on the parliamentary question.

It didn’t work. “Trafigura” was a trending topic on Twitter all morning and enough pressure came to bear that the gag order was nullified. TIME’s London correspondent chronicles events here. For our purposes, the closing paragraphs are the most interesting:

Shotnes points out that the effectiveness of gagging orders has been eroding for years, pointing to the banning of a book called Spycatcher, written by former British secret agent Peter Wright, in Britain in 1985. “The book went on sale in America and in Australia and everybody was getting their friends to bring books back,” he says. “Then it got to the point when you could injunct a newspaper but you could still read the story about the celebrity on the website of a foreign paper. Now stuff can be communicated left, right and center. Half the people it’s being communicated by aren’t even in the jurisdiction. How are you going to effectively prevent that?”

That’s a question to trouble legislators — and people with secrets to hide — everywhere. But there’s one clear lesson from the strange case of Twitter and the Guardian versus Trafigura and Carter-Ruck. Trying to suppress information in the age of social media is like trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. (Emphasis mine)

The age of the coverup is over. The sooner corporations, governments, and private citizens get used to this, the better off they will be.

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