Published On: Thu, Oct 22nd, 2009

Streisand Strikes Again

Last weeks headlines were dominated by a gagging order placed on the Guardian newspaper – which in something of a masterstroke ran a story about absolutely nothing. For those with their head in the sand, the newspaper was gagged at the request of Trafigura, an oil company who unsurprisingly wanted to keep quiet details of reported toxic waste dumping in Ivory Coast.

Within minutes of the Guardian publishing its ‘story’, bloggers and citizen journalists were busy assembling the facts to find out what was being blocked from publication – it didn’t take long to work out it was Trafigura. This was then widely reported over the internet and the ‘Streisand effect’ took hold once more – namely if you try and gag/block/censor something you will make people doubly determined to unearth it.

This once again highlights the democraticization of the internet. Whilst ‘super-injunctions’ may be granted the borderless nature of the social web will continue to find ways past them and ensure organisations are held to account. What one court in a county rules can not easily be implemented on the World Wide Web, which is made harder by servers being hosted in multiple countries.

As Rob Brown said in Public Relations and the Social Web: “The rise of citizen journalism should provide positive sustainable benefits for society as a whole. It is reasonable to assume that it will bring pressure to support the continued ascent of ethical business practice.”

This is certainly an example of citizen investigative journalism in action, albeit encouraged by a newspaper and hopefully the negative impact will encourage openness from organisations.

I’m guessing the decision to go for an injunction was made by Trafigura’s legal rather than PR team. It is normally the favoured move by lawyers to restrict the flow of communication. However, once you try and get something banned, you immediately make it hot property and the press/internet users will become fixated on it, causing hysteria until the secret is revealed a la Barbara Stresiand.

As Keith Ashby, Head of Litigation at Sheridans put it: “If people get a whiff that publication of information has been injuncted in the print media, they are getting more canny about how to find the information on the internet.”

This also pays as a very important PR lesson – if you have bad news, it is probably best to be truthful and try and put it into context rather than block or hide your head in the sand. In crisis management it is always better to be honest, say ‘sorry’ and rebuild from there.

Lying, bullying and not being apologetic makes this even harder – which I’m sure Trafigura will find out to their cost.

About the Author

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Marketing Manager with a passion for inbound at HubSpot, Founder of Growth Hack Talks, Blogger at Ben-Cotton.com and Chief Quaffer at CraftySwine.org .

Displaying 5 Comments
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  1. I got very excited about the Trafigura case when it first happened and immediatly calling time on legal process: http://bit.ly/PAd8g.

    But then I dug deeper and looked up recent High Court injunctions. It turns out that there are more than 300 super-injunctions in place and holding tight.

    Don’t let the Trafigura case fool you. Legal process is alive and well on the Internet: http://bit.ly/2ejrNE.

    The Harringey Baby P case proves the point. It held firm online despite much speculation and discussion.

  2. Ben Cotton says:

    It will be interesting to see if other newspapers will now be emboldened by the Guardian’s stance – and publish similar ‘stories’ every time a ‘super-injunction’ is issued?

    I’m sure there are armies of bloggers and citizen journalists ready to start digging for information should something similar happen again.

    Is this a turning point in the flouting (or sailing close to the wind) of legal process? Is the genie out of the bottle?

  3. andy morris says:

    wooo thanks for this info its something i didn,t know about ,
    thank you twitter or i would never know

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by bencotton: @robbrown Hi Rob, you get a mention in my latest blog http://tinyurl.com/yfsfbzw re: I use a quote from your book about the web…

  5. bencotton1 says:

    The power of Twitter eh’, Andy?!

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