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.