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| 1 minute read

Can the law handle emojis and social media?

At noon on Friday, it was announced that Rebecca Vardy had lost her defamation case against Coleen Rooney, with the ruling by Mrs Justice Steyn that claims that Vardy had been leaking stories about Rooney’s private life to the press were ‘substantially true’.

In a year of COVID, climate change and war in Ukraine, the recent celebrity court battles of Vardy v Rooney and Depp v Heard in the UK and US have appeared to provide light relief in the news feeds of many. The live streaming of Depp v Heard was reportedly watched for over 80 million hours and a docudrama of the ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial is apparently soon to be commissioned.

Yet there are many serious elements to these cases that are well worth considering. They are good illustrations of the ways in which such claims are handled differently on each side of the Atlantic - including in respect of legal costs. They also demonstrate that the impact and repercussions of a high-profile court case go beyond their outcome and whether they result in a successful or unsuccessful rebuttal is not necessarily the most significant factor. Something potential litigants should be aware of.

The Vardy v Rooney case is also yet another dispute centred around uneasy connections between old and (what we still call) new media, with celebrity Twitter accounts run by family, friends and advisers in the name of their clients (something, according to a pre-trial hearing, not fully understood by their followers) in a manner not dissimilar to ghosted print columns, though crucially without the journalistic training and legal pre-clearance which publishers of the latter would insist upon.

During the trial, much was made of the barristers struggling with the precise legal meaning of emojis. The far bigger question behind that is whether the forms and structures of media law developed for traditional publishing should continue to be applied to the social media platforms and apps that allow for a very different form of communication. And this extends beyond defamation or privacy to any of the “online harms” with which regulators and law makers are currently grappling.

We will return to these topics in more detail in future posts.

"It's.......... Rebekah Vardy's account"


film & tv, uk, usa, media, publishing, film, tv