The Enormous Growth of Social Media

In March I was lucky enough to attend a Trial Lawyers Dinner in Sarasota, FL on how social media can impact the jury. There were several topics covered from juror misconduct to using social media to help select an impartial jury.

With more than 2 billion users, 240 million of whom are here in the United States, the internet has enabled global communication and access to information at speeds that we have never seen before. We need to take into account the enormous growth of social media and how this can lead to jury misconduct. For example in a recent case the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed a death sentence since a juror tweeted during deliberations. There is a significant risk of a fair trial when jurors communicate through social media. That being said not only do attorneys but judges need to be vigilant in monitoring for potential misconduct.

In December 2010, Reuters reported that blogging, tweeting and other online diversions has reached into the jury boxes. This is raising serious questions about juror impartiality and the ability of judges to control their courtrooms. This threatens the existences of a fair trial since juries are to reach a conclusion in the case based only on the evidence and arguments presented in court. The fear is that the jury will have outside influences via social media. This has happened in several cases in America, as well as guilty verdicts being posted on social media before the judge and defendant is aware of the verdicts. This is completely unacceptable and steps have been taken to rectify this issue.

Many judges have resulted in giving social media jury instructions to their juries. An example of this instruction could be verbalized as: ”I know that many of you use cell phones, blackberries, internet, Twitter and other technology tools including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social networking websites. You must not talk to anyone about this case or use any tools to communicate electronically with anyone about the case. This includes family and friends.”

There have been studies and surveys completed that jurors will follow the judges social media instructions during the case. As such judges should be compelled to give social media jury instructions to help guarantee a fair trial.

– Ed Adams