There's nowhere to hide if your name trends on Twitter. Is there, Trafigura?

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So the background first: Giant oil business Trafigura is accused of dumping toxic waste off the Ivory coast of Africa, allegedly causing harm to the local population that frequents those shores. In most countries the legal system has not bothered to hear Trafigura’s claims that it’s been libeled. But the UK still has libel laws which were written over a hundred years ago. These are more than friendly to the “injured” party. Thus wealthy companies and individuals regularly mount actions there that other countries wouldn’t even give 5 minutes of court time because they are so blatantly self-seeking. In the last couple of days The Guardian newspaper was subject to a judge’s gagging order preventing it from even reporting the fact that a question about Trafigura had been asked in Parliament, traditionally outside the constraints of gagging orders and libel law. This potentially set a huge and backward precedent.

What happens next? The gagging order, links to Wikileaks and plenty of other information about the case was repeated on Twitter. Last night and today the entire issue trended on Twitter with hashtags including #guardiangag #guardian #carterruck (Carter Ruck was the law firm representing Trafigura) and of course #Trafigura.

With the traditional media gagged, the new media had kicked in. That created a story which plenty of trad media outlets and blogs outside the UK could not ignore and started reporting on.

In other words, this kind of censorship is over. And I hope that British Libel law will change as a result. It must now move into the 21st Century and reflect new technology. After all, there is now a new defence. Feel libelled? You can defend your case just as much as the other guy online. Except of course if you are dumb enough not to register @carterruck, for instance.

The below map is from Trendsmap.

And in another display of this massive wave of people power, here’s two videos of a time-lapse of Twitter trends captured by Twitscoop.

  • Ed French

    Sad, but understandable, that there are no flags on your map within 1000 miles of the alleged dumping!

  • Elie Bitar

    Individual and smaller entities have now the power to respond and reach out as widely and faster than larger organisations.

    If someone, in this case the Guardian, or any other entity is prevented to address an issue, then individuals will still be able to spread over the discussion publicly.

    Organisations should rather enbrace such conversations and contain their communication crisis by responding rather than seeking to suffocate the issue. Yet most do fear public conversations and unavoidably lose the battle.

  • Pete Shaw

    @Ed French – you think that’s sad? What about the fact that half of sub-Saharan Africa has been consumed by rising seas?

  • Tom Marsh

    Great article Mike, love the mashup. I just hope that the laws change in favour of free speech way, and not the Mandleson’s approach of tight internet distribution. I’m just glad The Guardian is there to raise the issue.

  • dj

    there’s two pieces of information here that trafigura don’t want linked, the parliamentary question in which cutter-ruck successfully managed to get an injunction on links trafigura and this report:,_14_Sep_2006

    the scientific findings in the report (prepared by specialist consulting company are in stark contrast to what trafigura publish on their own website:

  • Tosin Aro

    Good to hear now that the Guardian is able to report on the story now.38 Degrees are currently running a campaign on this. Take action now by emailing your MP and asking them to take a stand to stop this happening again in the future. Take action now, it only takes 2 mins. Go to:

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