Protecting the identity of Baby P's killers: The courts vs the people vs the Internet
Update 11th August 2009: The court order preventing publication of the identities of Tracey Connelly and Steven Barker has now been lifted.
Update 1st May 2009: This story, that one of Baby P's killers was facing additional charges of abuse against a second child, explains why the names had to be kept out of the public domain back in November 2008.
Original article from 17th November 2008:
The last few days have shown how very difficult it is to keep information out of the public domain, if the public are determined to find it out. A lot of comparisons have been made about the cases of 'Baby P' and Victoria Climbié, but in many ways they took place in a very different media landscape.
'Baby P' has his own Wikipedia page, created on November 12th, within hours of the court verdicts being announced. In 2000, when Victoria was killed, Wikipedia did not exist. It was not until the 4th anniversary of her death in April 2004 that someone made a page about 'The murder of Victoria Climbié'.
Trying to stick to the terms of the court order preserving the anonymity of 'Baby P''s killers has been very testing for a lot of sites online. Today, Wikipedia editors had to make several revisions to the 'Baby P' page to remove the killer's names. They also took the unusual step of removing the 'diffs' that showed what had been added and removed.
Nevertheless, all this information was carefully being archived on the Wikirage site, which produces a chart of which Wikipedia pages are currently getting the most edits.
Google was also a useful tool for finding out the details that the court wanted kept secret. Their cache on Monday afternoon still contained a BBC News report from late last year that not only named those charged with the death of 'Baby P', but also the toddlers proper name, and, incredibly, their street addresses.
A Telegraph report initially from around the same time could also be located in Google by using search terms which referenced the names of the people involved in the case. However, the article was edited by the paper on November 13th to remove any mention of the case, and was also expunged from the Google cache.
The cache of the BBC story was taken on November 4th of this year, and it is unclear to me why neither Google or the BBC have made sure it was removed.
The other big difference between 2000 and 2008 when we consider the Internet is the sheer scale of usage. According to National Statistics, 65% of households in the UK are now online, compared to 46% in 2002, and, obviously, less in 2000. In July 2000, only 17% of UK Internet users were believed to visit 'chat rooms or sites'. Now, social media sites like Facebook and Bebo are ubiquitous amongst mainstream Internet access.
Additionally, the majority of mainstream media websites now carry comments and forums. Today I've watched a series of threads on The Sun, ITN, Telegraph and Mirror sites get indexed by Google for publishing the child's mother's name, only for the threads to be pulled. It must be a tough day to be a moderator.
It is difficult to see how much longer the court ruling can be expected to hold. If the anonymity restriction is lifted, it will at least remove the curious moral anomaly that people who worked on the case are free to be named, shamed and hounded by the press, whereas the actual perpetrators of the dreadful crime are protected by the state from the prying public.
Please note: I have not included screengrabs or URLs in this blog post in order to avoid any risk of breaching the court order myself.