‘It’s twitter wot won it’

‘It’s twitter wot won it’ – well , not on its own maybe, but the new social media certainly paid a huge role in the Guardian’s victory over Carter-Ruck and their attempt to gag the newspaper from reporting a parliamentary question about their client, Trafigura. Prominent bloggers tracked down and published the likely question; twitters in their thousands expressed outrage about suppressing press freedom and the right to report Parliament. MPs took notice and took up the cause. A holy alliance of the mainstream and new media was very effective very quickly – Carter Ruck caved in and withdrew their injunction.

Are there lessons for councils? The obvious one is institutions are finding it increasingly difficult to hide behind the legal system to stop adverse publicity getting out.

But councils are pretty transparent anyway, so what else can we learn here? What seems clear is that the political power of online media is growing all the time – remember Obama, remember Iran? Social networking can help shape opinion, promote debate, campaigns can take on a new life. So councils and councillors need to be on board, however uncomfortable that can sometimes be.

Of course, we are not talking about global politics here, but there are still serious issues locally that need engaging with at different levels. Social media can be a potent vehicle for opening up debate – strengthening democracy. Yes, there are risks and hard questions, but the biggest risk is surely to ignore the world as it now is.

And these complex issues will be debated at our conference on the new social media on 5 November, fireworks expected