The “outing” of a series of celebrities in Twitter who allegedly have been the subject of superinjunctions raises some fundamental questions about the impact of social media, the ability of the courts to maintain anonymity and whether there is any use celebrities taking out these costly injunctions.
An interesting development has taken place with this story in that anyone could have previously dug around and found out who was rumoured to be behind the injunctions. However, this was mainly confined to digital audiences. Now this story has been reported in the mainstream media there will be a rapid increase of people looking to find out for themselves who the people are rumoured to be even though it is clear a lot of the information is factually incorrect. So, is there anything those at the centre of the allegations can do? I would argue no. It is impossible for anyone to stop people naming individuals if the numbers are large enough.
The inability of the music industry has shown how difficult it is to clamp down on illegal downloads when large numbers of people do it. Highlighting ad hoc prosecutions does nothing to stem the tide. The celebs may argue that this is fine so long as it stays out of the newspapers but this simply ignores the impact digital media now has on peoples lives and how easy it is for someone’s reputation to be damaged online. If you google a celebs name and they happen to be subject to these rumours will that appear top of the search? By being seen to be trying to keep the news quiet these celebs only succeed in making some people more determined to out them. It does create a dilemma though. What if you are wrongly accused online as has happened with Jemima Khan and Gabby Logan. How do you convince people there really is no smoke without fire? They have been quick to use the mainstream media to do this quite rightly but will the scars still be there if the rumours continue?
Also, there is another legal issue to consider. If a person retweets an accusation that breaks an injunction but says they were not aware an injunction was in place can they be prosecuted?
These superinjunctions may have been seen by many celebs as a useful tool to keep allegations out of the media but through a lack of recognition of the impact of digital communications, not to mention the backlash it would cause amongst the mainstream media they appear to have only created more questions that they have answered.