UK footballer accused of having affair and sues 30000 tweeters for saying so

Twitter has found itself yet again in court. This time its over the “publication” of the name a famous UK footballer who had a super-injunction: a super secret gag order, with the footballers lawyers now seeking to sue the California based micro-blogging site and tens of thousands of its users.

What began as a sordid tabloid story with a footballer and “glamour model“, Imogen Thomas, is quickly becoming yet another case where the free-wheeling nature of Twitter just may change how traditional media operates.

A super-injunction, is the “supersized” version of an injunction.

Not only does it gag the media from mentioning the name of a person who gets an injunction from a court, but bars the very mention of their being an injunction to begin with. Therefore if Footballer A gets an super-injunction against reports he had an affair — as is said to have happened in this case — newspapers are gagged from even writing about the case whilst leaving his name out.

This system — much hated by the media — began to unravel when the footballer in question, took out a super-injunction to stop his name being revealed as the philanderer, after Thomas threatened to reveal his name after British tabloid, The Sun, wrote the story of her being the other woman in the affair. The name of the footballer was already revealed in other newspapers around the world, it was no real secret and thousands of tweeters tweeted who it was.

The footballer, identified as CTB in court papers, in a most astonishing decision then took to the courts to sue not only Twitter but everyone who had tweeted his name as well — collectively referred to as “persons unknown” in the papers.

Estimates say that this may amount to 30 000 “persons unknown”.

If granted Twitter would be expected to turn over the data it holds – IP addresses, names and email accounts – of the “persons unknown”. However, being a US company — which in past cases has resisted such moves from US courts — and thus not subject to the jusrisdiction of UK courts, it’s not expected that Twitter will comply.

Twitter spokesman, Matt Graves said of the matter, “we are unable to comment.”

With a Scottish newspaper (therefore not being subject to English super-injunctions) The Sunday Herald was the first mainstream publication to identify the player yesterday by publishing a front page photograph of him with his eyes blacked out, and “censored” written over the top this matter has taken a serious turn.

As the newspaper wrote in an editorial, it was “unsustainable” for print media to not publish material freely available on the web, and that “we are not accusing the footballer concerned of any misdeed. Whether the allegations against him are true or not has no relevance to this debate. The issue is one of freedom of information and of a growing argument in favour of more restrictive privacy laws.”

For those who’d thought that perhaps this was a chance for the freedom of speech citizens of the United Kingdom enjoy online would spread to their media, with the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge — the UK’s top judge — having said in another case involving super-injunctions, “modern technology is totally out of control”, and “I’m not giving up on the possibility that people who peddle lies about others through using technology may one day be brought under control, maybe through damages, very substantial damages, maybe even injunctions to stop them peddling lies”, such hopes, sadly, just may come to nothing.

Just as fans of Wikileaks argued that the leaks affected by the website promoted further freedom of speech, though there certainly are good arguments against this opinion, it would seem again the online-space may just have a chance of reshaping the real world when it comes to freedom of speech.

If you want to know who the mysterious footballer is — if the picture didn’t tip you off — just search super-injunction on Twitter.



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