News: High profile trials and social media

Social media seems to be expanding exponentially; the outlets seem almost limitless - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Delicious and Digg - just to name a few.  This ever growing world of social media is now regularly intersecting with the criminal justice system.  Reporters are now tweeting, facebooking or sending Diggs from the courtroom, providing up-to-the minute information.
Two current cases are good examples of how social media is providing almost instant access to more information than has ever been available before - one is the Ottawa trial of Kevin Gregson charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Ottawa police officer Eric Czapnik; the other is the London trial of Michael Rafferty charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 8 year old Tori Stafford. 

In the Gregson trial there was actually a ruling from the judge permitting reporters to tweet about the case: see Ottawa Citizen Article by Gary Dimmock.  Now regular tweets keep the public informed and up-to-date about each day, witness and key moment of the trial: see for example Catherine Lathem tweets.
Similarly in the Rafferty trial, the London Free Press offers updates throughout the day. 
Is it too much?  Does everyone want or need to hear all these details, get all this information; have it provided in all these different outlets and media sources?  To be certain, media attention and information about criminal trials is good for the criminal justice system.  The more media attention, the more information provided and the more accessible that information is the more informed and involved the public will be in the criminal justice system.  Media attention also triggers debate, healthy debate, about the criminal justice system.  Check out, for example, the number of comments and re-tweets of Christie Blatchford's article, "Incredibly, defence tries to blame Tori's mom" - in which she criticizes, or at least comments upon the defence "slyly" placing some responsibility on Tori's mom.  You may not like what she has to say, you may totally agree with it - regardless, her article has got people talking, about the criminal justice system, trial tactics and lawyers.  Finally, it is certainly better to have more voices discussing and reporting upon a case; the more insight, the more information, the more likely it is the public will see the truth, understand the system and hold it and those working within it accountable.
Perhaps the one downside to the abundance and accessibility of social media is when it impacts on those making decisions in some criminal trials: jurors.  In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Juror's Tweets Upend Trials, Steve Eder reports about cases in the United States where verdicts have been overturned due to improper access to social media by jurors.  Eder also reports that defence counsel in a case in California are seeking a juror's Facebook records in pursuit of an appeal of their convicted client.
Albert Einstein once said, information is knowledge; I agree.  Tweet, Reddit, Blog, Facebook, so long as you're not a juror!
 
DG Mack
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