The Streisand Effect And Secrets In The Age Of Twitter

In Britain in the last few weeks, Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs has become the latest public figure to learn the hard way that suppressing secrets in the online age is like stamping on mercury.

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The dynamic of unintended consequence is often hilarious, and always instructive. In Britain in the last few weeks, Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs has become the latest public figure to learn the hard way that suppressing secrets in the online age is like stamping on mercury. Giggs, it seems, slept with someone other than his wife, and decided that he would prefer not to share these tidings with the general public. So, at doubtless considerable expense, he obtained a so-called super-injunction, a Kafkaesque legal instrument which not only prevents news media from reporting a story, but prevents them from reporting that they’re not allowed to report it.

Twenty years ago, this might have worked. Today, however – and even a footballer should have been able to work this out – Giggs would have attracted less notice to his infidelity, and at considerably less financial cost, if he’d announced it in a full-page newspaper advertisement, perhaps accompanied by some sort of billboard campaign. Giggs’ story got out, as stories will, and thousands of Twitter users took gleeful liberties with contempt of court. Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming lanced this bulging pustule of vindictive prurience by naming Giggs in parliament, the one place in Britain where free speech is unequivocally protected. The established media seized this cue to dispense with the innuendo and allusion to which they had been hitherto restricted – some of it admittedly ingenious. They piled in on Giggs by name, and declared a great victory for truth.

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