a historic moment for social media?

This week I made a garguantuan error.  I failed to engage with the conversation.  When I was given this assignment I had already commented on the Trafigura case in my first blog post on October 13th, but as I watched it develop, I let it develop without me.  I watched it passively, rather than actively engaging with the topic.  Oh dear – bad move, smack my hand, it will never happen again.

Everyone knows what happened last week with The Guardian, law firm Carter Ruck, the Houses of Parliament, MP Paul Farrelly, an oil company named Trafigura and Twitter.  If you don’t, you’re a week late – but you can read a brief synopsis here and here.  You can view the question posed by Paul Ferrelly to the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw here.  You can view the Minton Report. You can view the annotated super-injunction here.

If you would prefer a more visual presentation, you can watch this:

Or, you can follow the sequence of last week’s events on One Man and His Blog. Adam Tinworth lays it out quite nicely:

Here’s the rough sequence of events:

But, hang on a minute, hold the phone, stop tweeting – I thought this was a gagging order preventing anyone from speaking or even dreaming about the hush hush, cannot mention case involving, who? What did you say? Did you say TRAFIGURA?

Last week, bloggers and tweeters in their pyjamas – luckily for me, I am still dressed – refused to listen to judges in the High Court and exploded the unmentionable all over the net.  People who had never heard of the alleged illegal toxic dumping carried out by Trafigura off the coast of Cote d’Ivoire, Western Africa were now on the edge of their TweetDeck’s wanting to know more.

This handy little video was uploaded to YouTube from a website called TrendsMap.  Trendsmap is a relatively new mashup, which maps real-time local Twitter trends onto Google Maps.  On October 13th, at the very heart of the debate we can see visually  just how many people in Western Europe and all over the world, were talking about the Trafigura case. That wasn’t quite the point.  By imposing a super-injunction preventing The Guardian from reporting Parliamentary questions Carter Ruck fantastically shot themselves in the foot.

Now that people from all over the world can talk to one another at the click of a button, messages can spread faster than ever.  Mobs can be rallied; causes can be fought for.  What journalists at The Guardian could not talk about for threat of imprisonment or massive fines, Tweeters demanded to know what was being said.

Tweeters have had their meat this week; first big dirty businesses, then Jan Moir.  As I was researching these articles, Twitter, naturally led me to a very interesting article on Impact Media’s SEO Blog. I felt that this quote summed up the importance of social media:

“Suddenly the general public has moved seamlessly from quiet observer to judge, jury and executioner; their platform is no longer a mild-mannered letter to the editor, it’s digital, it’s real-time, it’s social media.”

Rightfully so,  Jan Moir was hung, drawn and quartered on Twitter and in the public eye this week.  A whirlwind of information was sent round Twitter, people rallied round the cause, flew their flags and complained to the Press Complaints Commission in their thousands.  22,000 complaints later and those that did not see the importance of social media in journalism are now waking up to the errors of their ways.  For Carter Ruck and Jan Moir this may be too little, too late.

What I find interesting is the different ways that media outlets have reigned in the power of social media.  On the one hand, you have The Guardian who have trained tweeters to do the hard work for them; they have found a loyal voice that can spread across the world in an instant.

Then there are those that lag behind, such as The Daily Mail and dearest Jan. Told to set up a Twitter account in order to rectify the uncontrollable situation, Jan Moir did her best to calm the crowds.  What began as a thoughtless, inappropriate article approved by her editor, escalated into a widespread controversial issue fuelled by Twitter.  Jan was left begging for forgiveness from her audience that now have the perfect platform in which to voice their disgust.

It has been made abundantly clear this week the power that social media can have.  Journalists need to learn how to use its power and engage with it; not ignore it or let it idly pass them by.

The mob have a voice now and they will be heard…

For a bit more reading on this subject, go to -

4 Comments

Filed under journalism, online

4 responses to “a historic moment for social media?

  1. Peter Harrison

    This story seems like a big deal in the UK. Obviously I live in a back water of the world as I hadn’t heard of this story.

    The only news last week of note was a couple of AFL footballers getting drunk…and maybe a sheep shearing competition or two.

    I think your journalistic skills could liven things up over here…there is definitely a spot for “real news” in Australia.

    Keep up the writing…

  2. DIH

    Not sure about this one! I was too hard on you last night though :-)

    First of all I thought it needed wholescale re-structuring … and stylistically I don’t like paras that say “look here and here, and for this look here” (a phrase linking to a set of delicious bookmarks lets the text flow much better). However on re-reading and re-re-reading, I find it difficult to suggest a better way of recovering from your “gaff”. What you’ve learnt from this is that several short, topical posts are much more effective in a quickly moving issue scenario, than a well-constructed, well-argued, balanced single piece – that comes at the end when the dust has settled.

    What I would say is that I think the set of link paras. that lead into the Jan Moir part of the post don’t let the argument flow as well as it could. The quote is very important, as would any reference to Clay Shirky’s work – which you must read sometime – but it somehow gets lost in the phrase “Rightfully so …”

    Finally the mob has always had a voice, it’s never had an effective platform to be able to use it before now when it didn’t naturally have any power; neither had it an ability to form, re-form and dissolve so quickly, so that the organisation (however defined, from nation state, through corporate governance to church council) finds itself flat-footed and unable to know HOW to respond.

  3. Peter Harrison

    Someone, DIH, has too much time on their hands.

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