Coleen Rooney has shown how social media makes us all stalkers

We are all capable of Coleen's great heights.

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Witnessing high art as it happens is, needless to say, a rarity. Most of us didn’t see Boticelli paint the Birth of Venus, most of us didn’t watch Beyoncé and Jay-Z film a music video in The Louvre, and most of us didn’t watch Olivia Colman say “my bitches” at the Oscars, live.

But today, it felt like the whole world witnessed Coleen Rooney reveal the results of her five month—five month—investigation into what account was leaking stories from her private Instagram to The Sun. And the announcement that that account belonged to none other than..........Rebekah Vardy.

For those who weren’t aware, Coleen Rooney is the wife of footballer and ex-England captain Wayne Rooney and Rebekah Vardy is the wife of footballer and ex-Leceister-winning-the-league-celebrity Jamie Vardy. They are high-profile football WAG friends and have shared the public eye together for years. Within the sporting world, they are some of the biggest non-footballing names.

Rooney noticed back in January that several things she’d shared on a private, locked Instagram account were ending up as tabloid stories, and lamented that she couldn’t believe one of her close friends would betray her like that. Suspecting the leak was coming from Vardy’s account, she hid her Instagram Stories from everyone on her feed bar Vardy, created a stream of fake stories – and watched as many of them ended up in The Sun. Since posting the results of her investigation, The Sun has taken down at least one of the fake stories she mentioned and Vardy has denied that she was the leak via her own Twitter account. The internet was—understandably—set ablaze by this story.

While a lot of the mania around the Rooney/Vardy beef stems from the pure unadulterated drama of two friendly celebrities having a public fight, what’s obssessed people about this story are Rooney’s apparent investigative skills. Good instincts! Laying traps! Months of waiting! This goes beyond your average celeb-on-celeb story. Years ago, such tactical thinking, skills of deduction and careful, patient execution would be reserved for investigative journalists and episodes of NCIS – and the thought of a celebrity (one who likely has assistants to deal with her social media accounts) who is an older millennial (one who didn’t come to social media as a native teen) so flawlessly and cleverly using a digital tool to uncover a hunch would feel far-fetched. What it reveals is that everyone—everyone— who uses social media regularly has become a better detective, with investigative tools and innate knowledge of these apps at their immediate disposal.

We’ve been inching towards this social media epiphany for awhile. When Netflix’s You came out early this year— a series about a man who briefly meets a girl in a bookshop and uses digital tricks to track her down and monitor her life—many viewers felt creeped out by his tactics; not just because they were easy to execute, but because many people embarrassingly recognised their own digital behaviour in his questionable methods. 

Just this week, people were both upset and relieved at the announcement that Instagram will soon be removing its “Following” tab, simply because it was a semi-secret way to track people’s movements on the app. In the late noughties, Facebook made everyone a “stalker”; since 2011, Instagram has made us all adept at tracking down our ex’s new girlfriend. Thanks to the voyeurism of social media these are no longer specialist skills, but an obvious, even if unspoken, part of how most people use these platforms.

What Coleen Rooney did was far beyond the average social media sleuth. Intuiting a leak from Vardy’s account, the composure required to plant fake stories about herself and let them run, and to do this all for five months and then drop it in such a dramatic way… not all heroes wear capes, and Coleen Rooney has just become mine. But what’s undeniable about this story is that voyeuristic platforms have honed every single user’s investigative skills – making all of us, for better or for worse, capable of carrying out similar inquiries. And while that may not always give us incredibly exciting stories, we should be pathetically grateful that it gifted us this one.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.