The decision by Trafigura’s legal firm, Carter-Ruck, to withdraw its opposition to The Guardian’s right to report the details of a question in the UK Parliament is — of course — important, but it would be a mistake to suggest that Twitter won the day.
What Twitter and — no doubt — other social media channels have managed to do was vital on two fronts: First, in highlighting the Trafigura issue in the first place and, second, delivering the means to galvanise mass opinion at an alarming speed.
The significance of Carter-Ruck’s to withdraw its opposition, is thanks largely due to the tenacity of The Guardian and — I understand, Private Eye — to pursue the issue despite Trafigura’s secretive legal injunction.
The Guardian questioned the right of a private business to prevent the proceedings of the British Parliament being reported; that is the principle that was at stake, and the Guardian successfully defended its right to report it.
I suspect it was this — and perhaps not even the issue — that struck a chord with the British public.
The idea that the work of its own Parliament should ever be interfered with by anyone other than electors appeared to spark furious collective indignance and, if there is one thing that the British get indignant about more than than anything else, it is the absence of apparent fairness and justice exercised in its name.
It is social media’s ability to harness popular opinion and, by doing so, precipitate the so-called ‘Streisand Effect’ that is so remarkable. It meant that the only option for Trafigura was to concede its objection in the face of hugely damaging public opinion — now likley to be even more damaging given the newly-found notoriety of its name.
The significant insight here is that — if nothing else — the episode demonstrates once and for all that social media is not simply a trend but a movement. It’s ability to consolidate and catalyse popular opinion in a matter of minutes it genuinely astonishing.
It is also a salutory lesson to anyone involved in communications roles in private, public or not-for-profit sectors: In the age of social media and coporate citizenry, you cannot ‘control’ your brand or organisation’s reputation; other people determine its reputation for you. If you choose not to participate, you risk damaging your reputation altogether.
What’s likely to alarm people in the UK more now is just how many similar secretive injunctions are there?
I am sure we will soon see.