More adventures in Twitter: Web 2.0 ungags the British press
October 21, 2009
Filed under International
Last week, the Guardian lauded users on Twitter and other user-generated content sites for the role they played in breaking through an extraordinary gag order imposed on the Guardian by a British court. The editor of the Guardian and the Twitterati claimed a remarkable victory for free speech and the free press. At issue were documents obtained by the Guardian associated with a major class-action settlement involving a multinational corporation and the 400 tons of petrochemical waste its contractor dumped in the Ivory Coast, sickening thousands. Last month, a British court enjoined the Guardian not only from releasing the document, but also, in a Kafkaesque twist, from reporting that it had been gagged at all. Things came to a head when a member of Parliament asked a question about the documents, bringing into play a longstanding tradition that whatever is said in Parliament is fair game for public reporting. The Guardian tauntingly alluded to the Member's question and the press gag, setting off a firestorm of activity on Twitter, blogs, SideWiki, Wikileaks, and Wikipedia that uncovered the documents and the gag order in under an hour. This story from across the pond is just the latest in a growing number of examples of how web 2.0 platforms can enable the exercise of rights vital to a healthy democracy and a free society: This summer we saw how protesters and journalists in Iran and Xinjiang used Twitter and other web 2.0 platforms to get their message out to the rest of the world. And earlier this month, Leslie Harris wrote about the use of Twitter during the G20 protests in Pittsburgh - an unmistakable exercise of the right to speak, assemble, and petition - and the trampling of the First Amendment and core civil liberties that followed. It is undeniable that free speech and human rights advocates have found one more tool to help their cause. To echo Leslie's warning about the G20 protester's arrest, however, the west must be vigilant in ensuring these tools continue to expand free expression within our borders, or else risk losing our moral footing when the next "Twitter revolution" comes.