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How Twitter is upending British privacy laws

While extreme gag orders, or 'super injunctions,' often keep the British press from airing the private details of celebrities' court cases, they haven't yet been able to quiet the Twitterati.

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A Manchester United supporter kisses a poster of Ryan Giggs outside the stadium before their English Premier League soccer match against Blackpool at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, in this May 22 file photo.

Darren Staples/Reuters

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Which Premier League soccer star had an affair with which reality TV star? How did he try to hide it? Did she blackmail him? The British press, by law, couldn't tell you. But if you really want to know, check Twitter.

And what would one find there? It was Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs! But with who? Yes! We knew all along! Big Brother star and Welsh model Imogen Thomas! No Way!

In a country where celebrity gossip is as beloved as fish and chips, and no one is as big a celebrity as reality TV stars and mischievous soccer players, this is the stuff of major news.

Now, Britain is in the midst of a raging debate about celebrities' use of "super injunctions," or gag orders, to hide the details of court cases and private affairs after Mr. Giggs and Ms. Thomas were outed on Twitter. The key questions of the debate: Are injunctions overused? Do they put privacy ahead of free speech? And how do they apply in a world where tweets can be anonymous, relentless, and don't abide by British press laws.

Two hours after the first tweet revealing the gossip was posted last month, its tweeter had gone from having four followers to more than 30,000. Two hours after that, interest reached such levels that Twitter broke its traffic record in the country, with 1 in every 200 British Web surfers racing to the site, according to Web measurement firm, Experian Hitwise.

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