The Trafigura case has been a hot topic this week. Ironically, the heavy-handed injunction has generated far more bad press for the company than anyone could ever have imagined. It’s been hailed by many as a triumph for freedom of speech and the power of websites such as Twitter. And yes, I suppose it has partially convinced me that Twitter is more than a means of broadcasting the contents of your breakfast to the world. But somehow I’m worried this may make Twitter users even more irritating than they were before.
Even the most loyal of Tweeters will admit there are many users who are just plain annoying. You know who I’m talking about. The people who feel the need to publish the most inane details of their life, which has now become just a way of passing time in between Tweets. And when there’s nothing to fill that gap, they’ll Tweet about Tweeting. Take Lily Allen for example. She’s publicly admitted her boyfriend is angry over how much time she spends updating her Twitter account. Now the Trafigura case has exploded, Twitter addicts like Lily have been given justification for needing their fix every ten minutes. If you criticise them, they can just smugly reply that without people like them, Trafigura might never have become breaking news. And annoyingly, we’ll have to admit they’ve got a point.
Seriously, though, I do wonder how Trafigura thought they could keep this under wraps in a world where information spreads so quickly. I was amazed when I read the history of the case on The Guardian website.
In February 2007 Trafigura paid the government £100 million to clear up the waste on the Ivory Coast following widespread reports of sickness. However, they denied responsibility. In May 2008, they threatened Newsnight with legal action for broadcasting a revealing report on the fiasco. They still denied responsiblity. In September, The Guardian found evidence suggesting Trafigura knew the dangers of their waste disposal methods. The company granted compensation to claimants within the same week, but guess what? They still didn’t accept responsibility.
After all this, they decided that it would be a good idea to impose a super-injunction on the issue and to deny press the right to report on a question raised in parliament. For a company which professes on its website to “constantly strive to reduce the nature and level of all the risks we face“, it seems a little short-sighted not to see the risk in this plan. It was clear that information was leaking from all corners. The strategy of denying all knowledge, while granting compensation and threatening any press with legal action, was obviously not working.
If I ever own a multinational oil corporation with dubious waste disposal methods, I’d like to think I’d do a better job.