I read an article in today’s Guardian about a gagging order imposed on it. In short, the newspaper has been legally prevented from reporting about the alleged dumping of toxic waste by a firm called Trafigura (it couldn’t even name the company).

Trafigura and The Guardian

The Guardian has been ordered to avoid reporting parliamentary proceedings about the matter. The newspaper’s David Leigh explains:

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

Naturally I was interested to find out what this was all about. It turns out that many others were too, and the newspaper’s strong social media presence has allowed readers to fill in the gaps.

Trafigura’ – the name that The Guardian dare not say, despite previous reportage – is now a trending topic on Twitter, meaning that it has gone into the stratosphere as far as word of mouth is concerned.

At the time of writing I’m seeing around 200 new tweets per minute that mention the company.

One slightly worrying aspect is that Twitter appears to have removed the ‘#trafigura’ from the trending topics. We’ll monitor this throughout the day. Nevertheless, ‘Trafigura’ without the hashtag is seen in the trends, as is ‘Carter-Ruck’, the company’s legal representatives.

This tidal wave of tweets makes for particularly bad PR, given the banning order against the newspaper. It’s a bit like an artist achieving a Radio 1 ban, which can result in chart success. What you seek to suppress only generates further interest. 

It really does show the power of social media in spreading word. PRs and legal eagles take note. As far as keeping this under the radar, well… this really is an epic fail. Carter-Ruck’s presence on Google Maps has started to attract negative reviews. It could be the tip of the iceberg, forcing the firm into a massive clean-up operation.

Now for some further reading…

    [Image by Shht! on Flickr, various rights reserved]