Thursday, October 15, 2009

the 140-character solution

Alan Rusbridger on Twitter and Trafigura and John Wilkes. (Trafigura tried to have the Guardian silenced by injunction.)

But the plan began to unravel rather rapidly on Monday when it transpired that an MP, Paul Farrelly, had tabled a question about the injunction and the awkward document in parliament. That was bad enough, what with the nuisance of 300-odd years of precedent affirming the right of the press to report whatever MPs say or do. There was a tiresomely teasing story on the Guardian front page. And then there was Twitter.

It took one tweet on Monday evening as I left the office to light the virtual touchpaper. At five past nine I tapped: "Now Guardian prevented from reporting parliament for unreportable reasons. Did John Wilkes live in vain?" Twitter's detractors are used to sneering that nothing of value can be said in 140 characters. My 104 characters did just fine.

By the time I got home, after stopping off for a meal with friends, the Twittersphere had gone into meltdown. Twitterers had sleuthed down Farrelly's question, published the relevant links and were now seriously on the case. By midday on Tuesday "Trafigura" was one of the most searched terms in Europe, helped along by re-tweets by Stephen Fry and his 830,000-odd followers.