Superinjunctions: Why Twitter needs to stand strong against internet censorship

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Oh how embarrassing to be a certain footballer right now. He’s been busted, the game’s over, and we’re all just waiting for him to lower his head and do the apology dance. But lo and behold, this isn’t at all what’s happened. Instead, the cad-du-jour has gone ahead and sued Twitter. Seriously? Does this mean Fred the Shred will sue the House of Lords next, the culprit that broke his own superinjunction?

The embarrassment is no longer so much about the footballer’s actual affair, but now it’s more about how he’s handled being exposed. You know the footballer in question – we all know. It’s all over Twitter, and yesterday he was even pictured on the front page of the Sunday Herald. The Scottish newspaper claims the superinjunctions have no power across the border, and whether or not that’s the case is another debate. But either way, the Scottish paper went ahead and published a photo with only the eyes covered, leaving it obvious who the person was. So now that’s all over Google too, if you are one of the few who don’t know already.

While celebrity dalliances are good tabloid fodder, the more interesting issue here (for the geek squad at least) is how this issue may affect the internet. Twitter is an American company, meaning it’s not likely to expend any resources to enforce a gagging order from a foreign country – even if it’s Britain and not some ‘obscure’ country with draconian laws. If online businesses were made responsible for adhering to laws in all the countries where people accessed the site, it would be a very slippery and messy slope.

Filtering tweets in real time may be difficult, but the lawsuit is simply calling for Twitter to reveal the identities of the people who broke the superinjunction on the site. But this is starting to veer onto the issue of censorship. You could argue no one would be hurt at being forced to stop talking about cheating footballers, but if we open the door at any kind of censorship it will be hard to close again. We tut at stories about China allegedly censoring Gmail and shake our heads at the Chinese not being allowed to access Facebook – but it’s all sides of the same story. Okay, so it’s sad about the exposure of the footballer’s kids. But the issue here is so much bigger than that.

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