Hiding in Plain Sight

This morning’s news feed contains stories about the breaking of another so-called “superinjuction“.

If you’re not aware, a “superinjunction” is a legal order out of the United Kingdom. It’s similar to what we would call a “gag order” here in the United States.

“Superinjunctions” though go a step further than traditional gag orders because not only can you not talk about whatever it is the injunction has been granted to cover, but the very fact that the injunction exists and what it enjoins is also covered. In other words, not only can you not talk or write about something, but you can’t talk or write about the fact that you can’t talk or write about it either.

Superinjunctions aren’t new. But they took on a new light in April when information that was covered under one of these superinjunctions was leaked to Twitter. The holder of the injunction went to Twitter to enforce the injunction. Being a legal order, Twitter had no real choice and started to enforce the order by removing tweets. The Twittersphere, though, took issue with this act of censorship and used the easy, quick sharing capabilities of Twitter to confound the effectiveness of enforcing the order be retweeting the story faster and more broadly than it could be removed. Folks also took to Facebook to post information too.

Today, now, we read that an Irish newspaper has released information sealed under a different superinjunction. Since Ireland isn’t part of the UK, the British superinjunction has no teeth in Ireland.

The Twitter episode also shows how the old tools to control information simply don’t work now. Peer sharing creates millions of possible communications channels at once, and it’s infeasible to monitor and shut them all down at once. This is compounded too by the fact that there are multiple peer sharing channels. Even if you are able to block Twitter for example, people will move to Facebook and even text messages.

Both episodes also underscore how actively trying to kill discussion of something in the public sphere ultimately achieves the opposite effect. In a global, socially connected world like we live in now, not only can you not put the toothpaste back in the tube, but if you try, people will pick up on that and give the story significantly more attention than it otherwise would have gotten.

This global, socially connected world is one that is highly sensitive to attempts to control information. And it’s one that will respond quickly and vigorously to those attempts.

The lesson from this is clear. If you have a story that you don’t want people to read about: leave it. Do NOT try to shut down discussion because you will only make the matter worse. Your best bet is to try and hide in plain sight.