by Niamh Kirk
Why do celebrities get super-injunctions?
The answer is simple but easy to forget. It’s because the mass news media amplify a story in a way unlike any other force in society, if it didn’t they would well and truly be defunct in the digital era. Celebrities know this, some newspapers seem to have forgotten.
Social media is a bubble, it’s many bubbles in fact. Facebook is a dominant force but after that the audience fractures across different platforms with different agendas. Twitter use and use for news is much lower, it’s discussion-based; Instagram, visual; Snapchat, video. On social media the audience is increasingly niche as more brands enter the market, carving out the audience. And even on platforms bubbles are formed as unknown algorithms draw your attention to ‘suitable’ content.
And amid all the celebrations of the genuine achievements of global journalists and activists on social media it is easy to forget, most people use it for chatting with friends and posting holiday snaps. It’s a gateway to the news, but as a rule, it is not the news media.
The news media are well aware of their amplifying effect, it is their raison d’etre, that’s why we regulate it and scrutinize it. And besides, that’s the very line the sales departments spin to advertisers when they are selling ad space.
There news media has a reach social media cannot compete with, particularly when it comes to the dissemination of news. Statistics show considerably more people use TV and just going to news websites than using social media for news.
Not everyone can afford to be online, not everyone has the facilities and not everyone wants to be on social. And this is truer as demographics get older.
Celebrities know this, why do those who should be more media savvy not?
The Daily Mail is currently outraged it can’t out a celebrity sex scandal that is already old news on social media, touting the ‘it’s pointless a anyway’ logic. It’s like complaining about not being able to recount a fight in the Queen Vic in last week’s Eastenders as headline news.
Taking something off ‘the social network’ and publishing it in the national mass media moves the story from a social discourse to a national discourse, or international. It’s taking it off a social platform with limited reach and extending it into the homes and onto the coffee tables of the countless that are passively or not engaged with social media.
This distinction between social and mass is important; social media makes up only part of the mass media and blurring the lines between the two has an impact on quality of news, for the distinction of media cultures and for the privacy of public and private figures alike.
What is being proposed in fighting the super injunction is a precedent that would undo years of work fighting against tabloids for better privacy practices. It’s a cultural shift. It is notable that no Irish titles which are outside the super injunctions jurisdiction ran the story. Different tabloid culture. But for British tabloid culture, undoing the super injunction would effectively rubber stamps low life journalism and green lights privacy invasions as bad as seen in the 90’s or the ‘decade of sleaze’ as it is affectionately known.
Celebrities know the distinction between social media and mass news media and we need to remember it too.