Twitter forces legal climbdown

If you'd glanced at Twitter on the morning of 13 October, you'd have been surprised - a commodities trading company called Trafigura, which most people haven't heard of, and a law firm that specialises in media, Carter Ruck, were both in the "trending topics" section, along with The Guardian.

What had happened was that The Guardian had been issued with a gagging order, preventing it from reporting on a question to be asked by an MP later in the week. The paper was also prohibited from explaining to its readers why it had been prevented - for a very long time - from reporting parliament.

The population of Twitter became outraged by the censorship, using hashtags, userpic overlays (known as twibbons) and even trying to organise a flashmob outside the offices of the law firm in question. Twitter celebrities joined in, with Stephen Fry labelling the situation as a "barbaric assault on free speech".

It was an excellent example of John Gilmore's famous quote - "The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it". The information that the law firm was trying to keep hidden was being freely passed around.

Eventually The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, announced that the injunction had been lifted - "Thanks to Twitter/all tweeters for fantastic support over past 16 hours!", he said. Nick Clegg voiced happiness that the ban had been lifted too, along with Stephen Fry.

The whole episode raises interesting questions - some are calling it online activism, though should companies have to face the pressure of the virtual equivalent of a mob with flaming pitchforks? Certainly it's true that press freedom is important - particularly the legal rights that the media have to cover parliament, but can the masses always be trusted to get things right?