Important lessons we can learn from the Wagatha Christie trial.
Whilst social media has many benefits, we all too often forget about the problems that can arise.
What is the ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial?
Rebekah Vardy is suing Coleen Rooney for libel after Mrs Rooney accused her on 9 October 2019 of leaking stories to the Sun newspaper.
Coleen Rooney said she had posted a variety of false stories about herself on her private Instagram stories and altered her privacy settings so that such posts were only visible to Vardy. She therefore concluded that Vardy must have leaked the stories to the Sun newspaper. This led to Rooney being nicknamed “Wagatha Christie” after the famous crime novelist, Agatha Christie.
What is defamation?
Defamation is a false statement (oral or written) about another individual that harms their reputation.
Defamation comes in two forms; libel and slander.
Libel is where a false statement is written. This can be a newspaper article or a social media post, such as a tweet (as the Wagatha Christie trial centres around).
By contrast slander is concerned with spoken statements such as a remark made in public.
What do I need to prove to succeed in a claim for defamation?
You will need to prove:
- That the statement was false;
- That the statement was defamatory (i.e. would the ‘ordinary person’ think worse of you or your business as a result of the statement?)
- That the statement identifies you
- The statement was published (i.e. the statement has to be communicated to a third party).
- The publication of the statement caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to your reputation (e.g. a tweet that has been shared multiple times, and reaches a large audience, often across the world, can cause ‘serious harm’ to your reputation).
Is there a defence to defamation?
If all of the above elements have been met, a defendant may have some of the following defences:
- Truth: Can the defendant prove that the allegations are substantially true?
- Honest opinion: It is a defence to a defamation claim if the defendant can show that the publication was a statement of opinion which was reasonable for them to have held; and
- Public interest: The statement concerns a matter of public interest and that the defendant genuinely believed that publishing it was in the public interest.
What are some lessons that can be learnt from the Wagatha Christie trial?
- Think before you tweet!
Before you hit tweet or share, stop and think whether you are posting something that can be considered defamatory.
- Remember social media posts can be shared instantly
Posts on social media can reach a wide audience across the world in the matter of minutes. This may mean that any defamatory statements you share online can cause serious harm to someone’s reputation.
- Consider the consequences
If we take anything from the Wagatha Christie trial, it is that litigation is expensive. To avoid paying thousands in legal fees, remember all of this can be avoided, if you stop and think before you tweet. Leaving money aside, court cases are stressful, and invariably involve reputational damage, particularly in a case like Vardy v Rooney where evidence such as private WhatsApp messages have been publicised.
If you have been subject to defamation or you would like assistance with defending a claim brought against you, please contact one of our commercial lawyers on 0121 355 0011.