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Free Speech, Twitter and Soccer: Privacy Case Raises Questions About Social Media Use

Free Speech, Twitter and Soccer: Privacy Case Raises Questions About Social Media Use

A British soccer player’s extramarital affair with a reality TV star is serving as a catalyst for an international legal debate about free speech on the Internet. The soccer player had been granted a super-injunction, a British legal measure — a “gagging order,” as the Guardian puts it — that prevents media outlets from identifying him. He had feared “public vilification” over the alleged affair, says the Guardian.

However, tens of thousands have named the soccer player on Twitter, Facebook and online soccer forums, rendering the injunction tantamount to useless. Last week, the soccer player requested, and got, a court order from the British High Court demanding that Twitter reveal the identities of the anonymous users who had posted his name. The injunction also applied to the Sun newspaper and the other party in the affair, ex-Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, a former Miss Wales.

Then, on Sunday, the Scottish newspaper, the Sunday Herald, printed a full-page picture of the player, with a black line over his eyes and the word “censored” in capital letters. An accompanying article named the soccer player as Ryan Giggs of the Manchester United soccer team.

Today in the House of Commons, John Hemming, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Birmingham Yardley, invoked parliamentary privilege and mentioned Griggs by name

Hemming made the intervention after [attorney general Dominic] Grieve announced that [Prime Minister] David Cameron had requested a joint committee of peers and MPs investigate the use of gagging orders. It came amid warnings from one influential Conservative MP that the actions of thousands of people posting details on Twitter of individuals involved in superinjunctions risked making the law “look an ass”.

To the condemnation of some of his colleagues, Hemming, who has been campaigning on the issue, exercised parliamentary privilege to identify the star at the centre of the injunction just minutes after the high court refused to lift a ban on naming the sportsman, who is said to have had a relationship with Imogen Thomas, the former Big Brother contestant.

“With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter, it’s obviously impractical to imprison them all,” Hemming said.

The High Court has again refused to lift the injunction, though, says the BBC.

A debate arose in the House of Commons following Hemming’s naming Ryan Giggs, with some MPs saying it was “incredibly irresponsible” of him to do so, and others saying that the case rather called for examining the “issues of principle involved,” rather than simply “flouting” those principles as Hemming is said to have done by naming Giggs.

The case has also brought up concerns about regulating free speech online. A New York Times review of the case — which does not name either the soccer player or the reality TV star — focused on its broader implications in view of the different laws and norms of different countries:

“If you step back, that same sort of protection is really vital to have in place when you’re talking about the individuals involved in a revolution or a social movement like the Arab Spring,” said Thomas R. Burke, a chairman of the media law practice at the firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

In a company blog post in January, Biz Stone, a Twitter founder, and Alex Macgillivray, its general counsel, wrote, “Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed.”

…Because Twitter is based in the United States, it could argue that it abides by the law and that any plaintiff would need to try the case in the United States, legal analysts said. But Twitter is opening a London office, and the rules are more complicated if companies have employees or offices in foreign countries.

Internet law experts notes that the posts about Giggs on Twitter would be considered legal in the US.

But if services like Twitter and Facebook had to abide by the privacy and other laws of other countries, it could be said that the Egyptian revolution might not have been possible: Think of the role Facebook played, and has continued to play, in spreading information about the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo and around Egypt.

Says Burke in the New York Times:

“You would think at this point in the Internet you would have a clear body of law about what laws the Internet is subject to, but that is anything but clear.”

I’m not so sure that it should be so surprising that we don’t yet have such a “clear body of law.” While many have long been aware of the power of the Internet to bring information seemingly anywhere and instantaneously, the Egyptian revolution and the protests that have been occurring throughout the Middle East and North Africa have provided a renewed and exciting sense of how powerful social media sites can be not only in disseminating information, but in fostering political change. For all that the Internet has become a part of daily life for many of us, there are still many aspects — many powers — to this still-new tool that we have yet to learn about, and to learn how to regulate, whether in our own countries or all over the world.

 

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15 comments

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5:31AM PDT on May 25, 2011

Bizarrely enough, Imogen Thomas *still* can't name him, and even now he can only be named in stories that refer to him being named in the HOC. So ridiculous. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1390337/Imogen-Thomas-warned-STILL-footballer-gagging-order.html

8:18PM PDT on May 24, 2011

No clear cut answers...

6:28PM PDT on May 24, 2011

If something is true, then No one should be allowed to censor it! And, it is false, there are libel and slander laws already in place in most countries.

2:42PM PDT on May 24, 2011

I don't use social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. I find them intrusive and I don't trust their security.

12:42PM PDT on May 24, 2011

If an adult does something wrong and gets caught then that is their problem if they get drug thru the mud however if it involves a minor then there needs to be a way from blosking them from coming out.

11:35AM PDT on May 24, 2011

I think much of this "huge" "public" debate is something of a smokescreen for those in positions of power and influence who would very much like effective privacy laws to hide their errors and indiscretions.
A few months ago, a high flying city "professional" was seriously reprimanded by his professional body for gross misconduct. He took out a "superinjunction" to prevent this disciplinary action going public. The situation was fought, in this case successfully, by Private Eye magazine on the grounds of public interest. If the law on privacy is tightened, such truths may remain buried and liars, cheats and criminals will remain in positions of public trust...well, more of them, anyway.
Information released in recent times on the internet is,mostly banal, a little of it is harmful, but the core of it reveals that those weare supposed to respect and trust usually fail to live up to their billing. It can be hoped that greater honesty and openness will actually provoke at least some to honour their responsibilities.
As for the current headlines, I couldn't give a f...ootball.

9:51AM PDT on May 24, 2011

If this guy did not want his name to be dragged through the mud he should not have cheated on his wife. He got what he deserved. However, I think whistle blowers, and other who are trying to make this a better world should be protected.

5:57AM PDT on May 24, 2011

"Reality Star" meets reality....and when these guys want publicity for its own sake, the public should be able to seek an injunction denying it to them.
we have to protect free speech;i.e., the market place of ideas. Protecting someone from real threat to lif and limb is legit, protecting them from the forseeable consequences of their own bad acts, not so much. The days when the press colluded in hiding the indescretions of high profile people is gone. so talk to your image consultant, not to the courts...or better yet, behave yourself.

4:59AM PDT on May 24, 2011

Lets suppose that I were a peeping Tom, like all the perverted trash who buy tabloids. I make a video like Earl Bradley did of you having a sexual problem in your bedroom. You are deeply ashamed of your sexual problem and that is thrilling to all the other peeping Toms to whom I sell this which is nobody's business.
Little minds say that I have some sort of right to freedom of expression to commit this crime. Tabloids are the same kind of bullies as that college roomate in Rutgers who posted a hidden camera video of a homosexual intimacy and caused that suicide. We justifiably say to hell with the surplus civil rights of the bully and I say to hell with the surplus civil rights of the tabloids and the sub-human trash who pay for them.
Look how they destroyed the Jon Benet Ramsey family, like sharks who smelled blood from the broken heart of the mother and father whose little girl was murdered, accusing the parents of committing the murder for months on end, forcing all of us to see it in the checkout stands of every supermarket. They belong in prison for decades. They don't deserve civil rights to the free expression that their vicious crime against an innocent family was. If low life don't like having their gloating peeping Tom perversions disrupted by the morally superior right of every human to have boundaries and the right to say "None of your business," they can go to Hell.

4:31AM PDT on May 24, 2011

Well Football players are overpaid and spoilt, many of them treat women as dross he was quite happy to have his privacy whilst her name was pulled through the mud by the tabloids. The British Tabloid press has certainly went out it's way to destroy privacy with News International squirming as it becomes obvious that illegal phone hacking has been a particularly abused tool. Still this is very much the way Z list celebritities keep their names in the news at least she didn't have to give a pig a handjob on a reality TV show like the woman who had an alleged affair with David Beckham.

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