CTB has finally been named as the footballer taking on Twitter, following John Hemmings “outing” of him today in Parliament. You will already know the facts and history, so here are my thoughts on a case that clearly raises substantial issues affecting the issue of privacy, the constitutional settlement, the future shape of the media and, at its most extreme, the future of the nation state;
- It is wrong that an MP should hide behind parliamentary privilege in order to breach the terms of a court injunction. It threatens the separation of powers and undermines the credibility of the courts. John Hemmings has achieved his ambition of 15 minutes of fame.
- CTB was badly advised to “take on” the Twitterati – in so doing he has led to himself being “outed” and has garnered more adverse publicity (and derision) than if he had not sought an order for disclosure against Twitter. I would imagine the next meeting between lawyer and client will be somewhat strained.
- The print media (at one end anyway) seeks salacious stories about celebrities that have nothing to do with the public interest and everything to do with maintaining their circulation figures.
- The print media is facing a struggle to survive – both (a) in economic terms and (b) because it can’t deliver the news quickly enough compared with online.
- Is this but the first salvo in a war that will eventually see print media defeated, because of its inability to compete on these grounds? Twitter has a massive advantage because it is open to anyone to use and is not governed by national laws.
- National laws cannot adequately regulate social media because the medium crosses national boundaries
- David Cameron talks of reviewing privacy laws but to what extent can a national government shape the agenda in these circumstances – there may be a need for international regulation, but to what extent is anything meaningful likely to emerge?
- Is the nation state in decline as a concept? Social media is proving itself to be a hugely powerful communication tool that transcends national boundaries and cannot be adequately regulated. If national laws cannot be enforced then they become redundant and open to ridicule. Ultimately that can lead to overthrow. Consider what has happened in the Arab world where social media is credited with the revolutions that have occurred.
- Social media is all the rage at the moment and its potential for causing change is only just beginning to emerge.
I don’t happen to think that the future of the UK as a national entity is threatened anytime soon by the Ryan Giggs episode, but we were reminded two years ago of how interdependent our economies are, which led to the worst recession in many people’s memory and we have seen how social media destabilised the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Is it so far fetched to think that the increasing globalisation of the way we do business and communicate has incredible implications for our media and our governments? The future may be in supra-national institutions that have the clout to reach agreement on these fundamental issues. For instance, the EU is considering legislation to make Facebook “forget” people who leave it, so that their photos etc do not come back to haunt them years later.
What happens to CTB in this matter is fairly irrelevant in the long term. In the short term he will be left with egg on his face and a large legal bill. Even if his application for disclosure of the users who blew his cover is acceded to by Twitter, surely he will not pursue contempt of court proceedings against them? Whatever, in the long run he may have done everyone a favour by bringing this issue to a head.
I also recommend reading Steve Kuncewicz’s excellent blog post on this subject for the history and analysis. He isn clearly right to say that Twitter users are not immune from the law, provided they can be identified and that is the million-dollar question.