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Coleen v Rebekah: Social media has become the perfect platform for real-life soap operas

Coleen v Rebekah
Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy watch England's Euro 2016 match against Wales Credit: Getty

It is the flourish that does it. Not content with revealing that Rebekah Vardy’s Instagram account is the suspected source of leaks to The Sun, Coleen Rooney revealed the news on Twitter with quite exquisite drama.

“This has been a burden in my life for a few years now and finally I have got to the bottom of it......” it begins, before spinning a tantalising yarn of suspicion and investigation. 

Rooney claimed she worked out it was Mrs Vardy, the wife of Leicester City and England striker Jamie Vardy, following a process of elimination which led to Rooney sharing certain invented stories with only her on Instagram. Travelling to Mexico for "gender selection" of the Rooney's next child, of signing up for Strictly Come Dancing and of a basement flooding. All of which later appeared in The Sun newspaper.

Months of it, conjuring images of her up late at night in the Rooney’s Washington abode, photographs, newspapers and half-finished coffee cups scattered everywhere as she yells “I need more evidence” as Wayne stands dumbfounded in the background.

And then, the reveal. A Columbo-esque ‘one more thing’ as she builds up to naming the perpetrator. “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them.

“It’s…. Rebekah Vardy’s account.” Dun dun duuun. John Le Carre eat your heart out, #WagathaChristie is in the house.

Quite why Rooney wanted to deliver this bombshell with maximum public impact is anyone’s guess; hell hath no fury, and all that. But whatever the reason it worked and social media was the perfect place for it.

The reaction was instantaneous and remarkable, spreading across networks like wildfire. And far beyond the salacious gossip sites you might expect. It was everywhere, swallowing the agenda for the day. People even managed to forget about Brexit for a little while, swept away by a real life soap opera that Corrie writers could only dream of.

Fascinating was the propensity for Rooney to be accepted as the hero of the piece, way before Rebekah Vardy managed to put out her own broken-hearted denial saying others must have had access to her account. The storytelling had weaved its magic, designed to win the internet to Rooney’s side.

Others attached to the footballing world chimed in. England and Barcelona striker Toni Duggan offered her sympathies, as did England women’s coach Phil Neville. Danielle Lloyd, the ex-wife of footballer Jamie O’Hara, replied to Rooney with a series of rat emojis, leaving no-one in any doubt as to her opinion on Mrs Vardy. The stage was set, the villain cast. 

And why, I hear you cry, does any of this matter to any of us? Twitter beefs between celebrities are hardly new, after all.

But this one seems different. Note how effectively social media has been worked to establish the narrative of this spat from the very beginning, even from a single post on Rooney’s Twitter and Instagram account. 

Social media is widely recognised as easily manipulated to influence global opinion. A report from the Oxford Internet Institute said that the phenomena is getting worse on a macro level, leaving public opinion and even elections open to be swayed by clever use of social networks. It may seem utterly ridiculous to cast a soap opera subplot in the same light, but you can see how effective the right post can be even on a micro level such as this.

Now, were it any of my business, I have absolutely no reason to believe that Rooney’s investigation and subsequent allegation were not legitimate. Indeed, closer inspection only serves to shore up its veracity. As noted by lawyer and Financial Times contributing editor David Allen Green on Twitter, Rooney’s allegation is “well-worded from a defamation perspective”.

“No direct allegation against Vardy personally but her account - key last sentence -  and Vardy's response confirms others had access to account,” he says. “Suspect a lawyer had input into wording.”

This contributes to the growing evidence -social media also makes sleuths of us all, apparently- that this was not just some off-hand airing of dirty laundry but a more deliberate decision to leverage social media to the cause.

If Rooney’s allegation against Vardy is true, then a (very) public dressing-down is frankly the least she deserves. Whether any of this is a seemly thing to see in public is another matter. After all, users young and old have seen this unfold in real time.

But delicious drama or not, the effective wielding of social media virality in a ferocious and potentially litigious spat is certainly food for thought.