Why Is Twitter Sending Legal Letters Warning People About Tweeting About The Gagged Topic Of A 'Celebrity Threesome'

from the don't-let-the-sun-on-sunday-reveal-me... dept

For years we’ve written about the troubling practice in the UK of so-called super injunctions, which bar the press from discussing certain topics. It seems that these super injunctions are most frequently used to stop any discussion in the media of embarrassing situations involving the rich and famous. Of course, social media — and Twitter in particular — have become a real challenge to making those super injunctions have any meaning at all.

Apparently, one such super injunction was recently granted to a “celebrity couple” who added a third person to add a “trois” to the “menage.” The threesome doesn’t want their extracurricular activities to be discussed publicly, and the courts have obliged, with the UK Supreme Court upholding the super injunction, while the UK’s the Sun on Sunday tabloid sought to break the media gag order. I’m not exactly a fan of media reporting on the personal activities of what celebrities do in their bedrooms, but it still seems troubling to have courts completely bar the media from discussing the situation at all (they can discuss that the super injunction exists, but not much beyond that).

But, again, there’s social media. So it seemed doubly odd that people who had been tweeting about the “celebrity threesome” started receiving emails from the Twitter legal department alerting them that they may wish to be cautious about tweeting such things.

An email from Twitter?s legal team, seen by the Guardian, does not explicitly ask users to delete the tweets but hints that there could be consequences for not doing so.

The email reads: ?The complainant requests that the following tweet, allegedly in violation of local law in the UK, be removed immediately from your account. Please confirm whether you will voluntarily comply with the request.?

It also includes a reminder that Twitter?s rules require that users ?comply with all local laws regarding their online conduct and acceptable content?.

From that, it actually appears that lawyers for at least someone involved in the threesome reached out to Twitter to complain about specific tweets and argued that the super injunction applied there as well. Of course, the super injunction applies to media, which raises the question of whether or not random Twitter users qualify as “media.” At the very least, the Attorney General for England and Wales is similarly warning that even those tweeting the names may be prosecuted:

The attorney-general has warned Twitter and Facebook users may face prosecution if they name the celebrity at the centre of a privacy injuction banning the reporting of his alleged extramarital activities.

Jeremy Wright QC said in a statement that anyone who breached the order, not just newspapers, could have contempt of court proceedings brought against them.

So, perhaps the email from Twitter was just trying to protect its UK userbase from facing such legal actions.

Still, it appears the lawyers trying to silence these details are going after anything online they dislike. Last month they claimed that a random blogger violated the super injunction as well, and have also sought to use Europe’s “right to be forgotten” rules to remove search references as well.

Of course, all this activity seems to only be fueling even more interest on social media in leading people to figure out who the suspected celebrities are. Apparently tabloid publications outside of the UK have freely published the details of the story, so it’s not like anyone in the UK has to look very hard to find the details, and that was one of the arguments used against allowing the super injunction to continue — but apparently the Supreme Court was not convinced. Either way, even if Twitter argues it’s doing this to protect its users from possible charges (as ridiculous as those might be), there does seem to be something quite troubling when a company like Twitter is basically telling people to “watch what they say” for fear of potential legal consequences.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: twitter

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Why Is Twitter Sending Legal Letters Warning People About Tweeting About The Gagged Topic Of A 'Celebrity Threesome'”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
62 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Procedural Question

There’s a building legal battle over the issue of the web being world wide in regard to injunctions and supposed rights to be forgotten. France already thinks it can tell Google to remove international search results.

This might be the only time where corporate sovereignty could work in the favor of the first amendment. Google and Twitter should be able to tell national governments to go fuck their censorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Procedural Question

I really hate the concept of “right to be forgotten,” ’cause all it really is is the “right to pretend something never happened.”

I mean, if someone was falsely accused of molesting a child or rape then I can support the supression of information that would cause “no smoke without fire.”

But if you do something like have an affair, or kill a hooker or whatever then why should that information be supressed?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Society disrupted by technology.

People’s lives can be ruined by a rumor, but before the internet, it didn’t happen very often, so we tolerated it.

Also people could outrun the rumor.

Nowadays, rumors and factchecks fly around the world like fire through flashpaper. Europe’s RTBF is an attempt to address the issue via technology.

But it’s not a tech problem. It’s a social problem. It was a social problem before when it was small. Now it’s huge.

We as a society will have to learn that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has pasts. Everyone has teenage nudes on the web somewhere.

That is the problem.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Society disrupted by technology.

“We as a society will have to learn that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has pasts. Everyone has teenage nudes on the web somewhere.”

From what I can see amongst my kids and their friends, folks from their mid 20s and younger totally get this already. We’ll have a period where the old farts like me will stand in their way, but I think it will be a pretty brief period.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Society disrupted by technology.

We as a society will have to learn that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has pasts. Everyone has teenage nudes on the web somewhere.

Not quite. Some people are so old that their teen years had passed long before car phones had cameras, and taking actual photos on actual film was a much bigger deal.

It did not tend to happen as often as kids taking improper pictures of themselves happens today because the barrier to entry today is so much lower. Of course this does not stop state’s attorneys from treating it as being every bit as much a problem as it would have been when they were born.

The results are sometimes silly: a kid who takes a picture of himself is now a felon, and also the victim, and, yes, the law does appear to be an ass.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Society disrupted by technology.

“Everyone has teenage nudes on the web somewhere.” – a new version of the “skeleton in the cupboard”? Perhaps.

But the point is valid.
What is more – RTBF works in Europe; there is no chance it would work in US, and you can compare the two search versions. And no, blocking TOR and VPNs, and even VSPs would not work, as long as phones work, you can just call a friend in US.

So now – if you consider someones reputation – what looks better:
– his/her “nude teen photo”,
– his/her attempts to hide it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Procedural Question

Because the injunction doesn’t extend outside of England. The couples have been named in magazines and papers in the U.S., Canada, etc.

And Scotland! Yes, Scottish newspapers have named the couple. It’s absurd. These judges are so out of touch with reality (while insisting that they are not).

M. Alan Thomas II (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Procedural Question

The common-law privacy idiocy of England and Wales does not extend to the independent Scottish judiciary, thank God.

This is actually a vehicle for one of the primary attacks on the situation: Pointing out how unfair it is that some citizens of the UK are gagged while others are not. Or, as some of the newspapers have pointed out, that their Scottish edition can run the story but their England edition can’t even say which story it is that they can’t run.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Apparently tabloid publications outside of the UK have freely published the details of the story, so it’s not like anyone in the UK has to look very hard to find the details, and that was one of the arguments used against allowing the super injunction to continue — but apparently the Supreme Court was not convinced.

Which shows you why countries that push for ‘Right’ to be Forgotten laws will inevitably push to have them apply globally, and why some have already. If you can’t export your censorship worldwide then it’s not nearly as effective, whether face saving super-injunction or history re-writing RtbF demand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Has been published in (part of) UK

“Apparently tabloid publications outside of the UK have freely published the details of the story, so it’s not like anyone in the UK has to look very hard to find the details”

The story was published in Scotland and Scotland IS part of the UK although it does have a separate & somewhat different legal system. Still, the point is that the details HAVE been published in part of the UK (print only, not online ie anyone in England who wanted to could drive that day to Scotland and buy the newspaper and freely carry it back, but apparently cannot tell anyone what’s in it).

As for finding out who it is, anyone who cares in England & Wales probably already knows since threads have appeared and disappeared in all the usual places (reddit etc).

Pertinax Priobium says:

Re: Re:

It would be a great sacrifice to reveal the celebrities involved, which is why I’m still standing by the principle that this would not be the one to step into. Christmas may come and go before any revelation, because an injunction is something you don’t go breaking. My heart is heavy, but the chances of revealing the truth are tiny. Dancer, singer, actor, politician, it could be anyone from Tokyo to Philadelphia. Freedom to reveal who is involved would be a fine thing.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The new lyrics to His royalties song:

It’s a little bit funny,
that this injunction tries
I’m now one of those who is trying to hide

I do have much money, and boy it does help
I buy all the wigs to stop people going on yelp

So excuse me! FORGET! these things that We do
Just start forgetting if they’re real or they’re true

Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the eyes who shall never see

I.T. Guy says:

Ah ha moment. Pfft. So some big glasses wearing piano playing flamboyant entertainer had a threesome. Meh. It is Friday.

Got a good one for you… Billy Joel and some big glasses wearing piano playing flamboyant entertainer had a concert many years ago and during practice we were preparing the field. Billy mentioned how pretty the girls were in Philadelphia. The big glasses wearing piano playing flamboyant entertainer replied with how good looking the men were. We all just stopped and looked at each other, not really surprised, but kind of surprised he said it through the PA.

Now if the threesome were 2 females and him… THAT WOULD BE NEWS. 3 males…. not surprising at all.

jameshogg says:

I should point out a correction, Mike. This isn’t a superinjunction, it’s an injunction. A superinjunction is when you can’t even mention the injunction exists without being in contempt of court, which is illiberal because it essentially means secret courts. Though a regular injunction you can say that the injunction exists, which is why papers are allowed to talk about the injunction in England and Wales without actually mentioning the names, and they have done so. See the Daily Mail’s “The Law Is An Ass!”

Here in Scotland I could probably name the names without legal trouble. However if I were to step across the border only a couple hundred miles away I probably could not. And I’m not sure if it counts if a copy of my message would be read in HTML in England despite me posting from Scotland to an American server.

I do have some sympathy with my opponents here. If some poor woman were photographed nude without her permission and that image went viral across multiple sites globally, she’d be pretty pissed, and she would be a bit disgusted at folk who try to mock her resisting it as creating a “Streisand Effect”, as if she were to blame for everybody else’s violation of her privacy, which is what “fighting it makes it stronger” can only mean in this case. The thing about the Streisand Effect is that it only gets you so far morally. It can lead to victim blaming.

And my opponents could also say that it is possible to beat the Streisand Effect by citing the example of the naming of the identities of the killers of James Bulger. This had gone a bit “viral”, but then the names had indeed still been removed at every instance in the end.

Though I fear the above example was only due to luck and the example above that no doubt due to the ignorance of porn viewers when determining if each and every nude image is consensual or not. There was more interest here in the UK about the James Bulger killers’ identities than say in the US because it was a UK story at its origin, and not as many were spreading the identities because many others objected to it, which may have made it easier for the police to stop.

It’s a bit scary to think that law has lost its competency here, and that no amount of law can stop memetic information if it’s up against millions willing to resist it. If the law does appear to succeed in putting it down, is that because the law’s force was strong, or because the people simply chose not to make the content viral? That’s a critical question, because if law is all in the mind anyway and authority is an illusion just like free will is, it would make sense that the latter bit of the answer would be right. We all, in the end, decide if laws should be followed or not, and papers called “laws” are inanimate objects that only mean something if we choose to act in favour of them. Law comes from Order, not the other way around.

That’s pretty disturbing, so it is possible that memes can’t be stopped by law online – and I really do mean meme in the Dawkins sense of the word: natural selection of expressions. So how do we deal with the nasty stuff?

I think we need to start considering focusing all the justice of civil compensation and prosecutions etc, if there is a case of course, on the “point of the leak”, not on folk who simply echo the leak. So if Hulk Hogan wants compensation for an act of revenge porn (I don’t know the full details but I assume it must have been revenge porn, I don’t think he would have won if he himself published it), he’d have to take it to Gawker or even the person who sent it to Gawker, not everyone else reporting on the story. Otherwise you get farces where because of international servers anyone can find out the UK injunction names but cannot talk about it between them in certain regional parts of the Union. And I’m sure you can still find the Hulk Hogan sex tape somewhere. If you worked hard enough, the killers of James Bulger too.

One exception to this might be child rape images, where those who echo them must also be punished. Though I think that works because the “Is it consensual? How am I meant to know?” line of thinking doesn’t hold up since a child cannot consent whatsoever. And the presumption must be made that those who possess such images must also have knowledge of and history with child rape criminal gangs who profit from the slavery, so it is easily justified to say why law must fight against it. And it succeeds very well because the majority will report and fight against child rapists, not spread evil images.

…so again, law only “works” because the masses follow it.

Therefore, in regards to the stuff where you’ve got to stop the point of the leaks, we may have to simply face the fact that we’re in an age where you can’t just walk up to printing-press bottlenecks anymore and put a hold on them. You’re up against a massive ball of rubberbands the moment something leaks, and even if you get 99% of them that 1% still lingers waiting to instantly turn into the big ball again (I’m sure there’s a better metaphor… probably the ProtoPets from Ratchet and Clank 2). So in this day and age, it makes more sense to focus all your justice on those who take something out of your private sphere initially into the public sphere without permission. Because chasing the echoes is only going to be horrible and ugly.

Haggie says:

Super Injunction Injunction, what’s your function?
Trying to limit freedom of the press
which is pointless with the Internet.

Super injunction junction, what’s your function?
To protect British celebrities
from their own indiscretions.
Like hookers and blow, your place or mine, cock and tease!
Hey don’t publish that, please.

Super injunction junction, what’s your function?
I’m going to steal your freedoms if you’re not very careful.

David says:

Re: Re:

Good grief. That’s even more stupid than I thought. They probably needed the injunction or none of the tabloids would have bothered in the first place.

I mean, you would have thought this was a Snowden/Merkel/Cameron threesome as a precondition in TTIP negotiations we were talking about here.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Re:

You’re right. I tossed sir JOHN out there to point everyone on the right direction.

What’s interesting is all the widespread timidity there is about discussing this. Given the egregious, heavy-handed legal tactics JOHN employed to force everyone into rewriting the past, I’d of expected some backlash.

However, the TD article felt like pulled punches, maybe followed by skin moisturizer and a pedicure. No names were even hinted at and no mention of the Streisand Effect. It also didn’t seem like Mike was having any fun with the pressure to redact.

It was was surreal and a little spooky.

Of note there has recently been other similar UK injunction on the Press. Three weeks back, names came out that were buried in a 2011 injunction. They were Wayne Rooney & Helen Wood. I don’t know who they are and only mention it now because I wasn’t sure which philandering UK celebrities I was looking for.

Not that I would have been looking for any dallying jackwad at all if aWeSoME cELebRItY MiND PoWEr hadn’t been deployed to make UK courts to censor the press.

Jeff Green (profile) says:

Who cares?

Three consenting adults had sex.

None of the three consenting adults has ever publicly said anything about such things being wrong.

None of the three adults makes their money out of being upright boring moral guardians.

So WHY the F*** should anyone care who they are?

Personally I wouldn’t care either way if someone said such things about me, but I do believe everyone is entitled to a degree of privacy and these three seem to want that. Good luck to them. Move on and deal with something genuinely interesting. Courts not being American isn’t a bad thing, the English courts haven’t tried to impose the injuction in any other jurisdiction, they have weighed English law and acted on it. That’s what they are for!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who cares?

I completely agree. I found the “news” quite lame and nothing of interest. Didn’t even care enough to click the link…. But that was until they pulled a stunt like this. I still don’t care about the bedroom antics of these people, they can do what they like and good for them that they do, but the minute they threaten with lawsuits and start censoring, I will read the heck out of that story, simply for the reason that such things must not succeed.
If they succeed here, they will use it in other stories that will be significantly more important than this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who cares?

“None of the three adults makes their money out of being upright boring moral guardians.”

While claiming to the court that the privacy of their young children must be protected they are simultaneously and flagrantly running a public relations exercise using the very same children in public photo appearances to buff their ‘perfect family’ image. So yes, their public ‘family values’ image is very important to them and one might be perfectly justified in speculating on whether protecting that public image is more important to them than their children’s privacy.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...