The recent twitter / Trafigura saga has been lauded as a fantastic example of the power of new media, up there with Obama’s election victory and Susan Boyle‘s rapid ascent to fame courtesy of YouTube. Essentially a legal injunction blocking the UK Guardian from reporting on an environmental scandal was overturned after massive attention from the twittersphere.
“The Guardian story announcing that it had been restricted by an existing high court order from reporting certain parliamentary proceedings had been published online for just a matter of minutes before internet users began tearing apart the gag.
On Monday evening, blogs and the social networking site Twitter buzzed as users rushed to solve the mystery of who was behind the gagging attempt that less than an hour earlier had prevented the newspaper reporting details of a question tabled by an MP to be answered by a minister later this week.”
Actor-network theory (ANT) proposes that both humans and non-humans are significant powerful elements in our systems. These ‘hairy objects’ are all interrelated, and go through trials of strength which determine their place in the scheme of things (See Michel Callon and Bruno Latour). Ultimately, each network is always made up of entities that are in turn other networks.
This story is an excellent ANT example as it enables us to observe a trial of strength between the twitter platform (and the power it has amassed through its users), the UK government (and its bearaucracy), the Trafigura company (and its connections and buying power). It shows how twitter (non-human) can amplify the power of its users (humans) who gave twitter its power in the first place.
In this example twitter has been used to promote a democratic outcome. But power is not right or wrong, it just is. In the same way that Google has come under fire on the grounds of privacy and market domination as it grew, it is only a matter of time before twitter does too – and we will see whether it has learnt from Google’s misadventures and can manage to balance its commercial interests with corporate social responsibility.