In today’s media world, it has become very difficult to enforce a gag order by the authorities on the media. The flow of information in the online space cannot be controlled in the same way that it was in the past. The case of the Trafigura company remains one that has highlighted the vastness and usefulness of the social media platforms and how they can be used for a common goal.
The Google Sidewiki toolbar is not so new anymore as it was a very important tool used to uncover the Trafigura case, which The Guardian newspaper was gaged to report initially. The Google Sidewiki allows people to post comments on any website they visit, allowing only the users of the Sidewiki to view those comments. The toolbar has gradually been acknowledged by users around the world, with some still finding it worrisome that their conversations and activities are monitored online by an external body, which in this case, is Google.
In September 2009, the case of the London-based Trafigura shipping company began in court, and they were represented by the Carter-Ruck law firm. The shipping company was said to have paid a local contractor in Ivory Coast to dispose of its waste illegally, which ended up killing about eight people and several others seeking medical help from the country’s fragile health care system on the verge of collapse.
The material about the company’s involvement was obtained by a journalist from The Guardian, but a British judge ruled that the latter should be kept confidential, hence imposing a gag order on The Guardian. The gag order handicaps the newspaper outlet from reporting the Trafigura case as it should because of the injunction, and it also means it cannot tell its readers that it has been gagged.
The court report that resulted in the gag order on The Guardian was later reported on the whistleblower section of Wikileaks, and with the inclusion of social media, particularly Twitter, millions of people were made aware of the secret information. Some readers also made use of the Google Sidewiki toolbar to post comments on the web pages of the Trafigura company and also the law firm of Carter-Ruck. The Google Sidewiki was very efficient to use as well because only those who have the toolbar installed can view the comments of other users.
Following that, Trafigura and Carter-Ruck agreed to allow The Guardian to publish and report on the court proceedings as well as the Minton report, which was initially gaged due to the influence of social media and millions clamoring for change. The shipping company, Trafigura, paid compensation to the Ivory Coast government for the incident, even though it still did not publicly admit its wrongs.
Social media, when used rightly, can be a great tool in achieving positive results. The inclusion of the Google Sidewiki toolbar also played a very interesting role in the discovery and dispensation of the truth about the Trafigura and Carter-Ruck court cases, ensuring that justice was served.