Commentary

U.K. Gag Order Can't Halt 'Streisand Effect'

Judges in the U.S. don't impose gag orders all that often, and even when courts issue such orders they're often overturned on appeal, thanks to the First Amendment's free speech guarantee.

In the U.K. on the other hand, not only can judges issue orders banning the media from publishing truthful facts, but the judiciary can issue so-called super injunctions, which prevent the media even saying that a gag order exists.

Newspapers in the U.K. apparently tends to honor those orders. But not even super injunctions can prevent Web users from posting information on platforms like Twitter.

Just ask Manchester United soccer star Ryan Giggs. Earlier this month, he obtained a "super injunction" banning publication of information about his alleged affair with Imogen Thomas, a model who starred in a U.K. version of "Big Brother."

Nonetheless, by Monday tens of thousands of Twitter users had posted his name. Remarkably, even that fact couldn't convince a U.K. judge to grant a request by The Sun to allow it to print Giggs' name.

advertisement

advertisement

Finally a member of Parliament publicly commented on absurdity of the situation -- and, in the process, freed the media to report on the matter. "With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter, it is obviously impracticable to imprison them all," John Hemming said in the House of Commons. That statement effectively nixed the super injunction because the press is allowed to report on matters once they're mentioned in the Parliament.

But Hemming's statement doesn't seem to have ended the matter. Giggs' lawyers reportedly are attempting to learn the identities of Twitter users who posted his name. Theoretically, some could be brought up on charges relating to the injunction -- that is, assuming they had been served with it in advance. If not, it's hard to see how they could be held liable for violating it.

Regardless of whether Giggs can prove that any individual Twitter users violated U.K. law, it's pretty clear that his attempts to suppress the information isn't working. As Barbra Streisand found out years ago, attempts to silence speech online tend to backfire.

Next story loading loading..