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Social Media effects on Law and the Legal System

13 February 2009 No Comment
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Effects of Social Media in Law

In the past few years, the emergence of social media and the easy ability for users to communicate has drastically changed the news media landscape. Social online communities has allowed many users to united over various issues and form strong widespread interest groups. Whether through user generated news stories, opinion blogs, message boards, interest based websites, there is a large shift towards transparency and participation. In the minds of internet users, user reviews and opinions has become the source to get authentic, objective news.

A great example of the impact of social media is the recent Obama campaign. His campaign utilized a full social media strategy posting 1,800 videos on YouTube that generated 110 million views. They created a Facebook group with 3 million fans and a Myspace page with nearly 850,000 friends.

One area that has also been impacted by social media is our legal system. Social media has become a new tool for litigators to use within trial practice for research and to influence public opinion. Litigators and prosecutors have started to utilize personal information on social media sites to their advantage. This has often happened in DUI cases where photos of young people intoxicated were used against them. They have attempted to manipulate social media to influence the opinion of the public and of jurors.

Recent Examples of Social Media in Law

See examples of the effects of social media such as social networks (facebook, myspace), blogs, twitter, discussion boards and the like, on law and the legal system. The full article can be found Here.

A recent example of a social media tactic to which a court objected took place in December 2008, when a plaintiff’s lawyer in a local fraud case attempted to influence public opinion by posting an excerpt of a defendant’s deposition testimony on YouTube. Judge Roberta Lloyd of Harris County, Texas, Civil Court in Houston ordered the law firm to remove the excerpted video deposition from YouTube primarily because it was not officially a “public record” and had not been properly filed with the court.

Lara Buys, 22, on trial in Santa Barbara County, Calif., Superior Court, received two years in prison after posting pictures on the Internet of herself drinking and partying just months after causing the death of her best friend in a drunken driving accident.

Jessica Binkerd, 22, was sentenced to five years by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Brian Hill for a fatal DUI accident. During the trial, Binkerd was advised by her defense attorney, Steve Balash, to remove incriminating photos of herself on her MySpace profile page. She neglected to do so.

More excepts from the article

It’s been known for a while that the Internet exerts immense influence on public opinion and therefore the jury pool. Litigators who want to know who is saying what to whom, why, to what extent and with what effect, are looking toward the new trends in social media and citizen-journalism. Recent statistics demonstrate why it is more critical than ever to understand the effects of the new media landscape.

For example, according to the Internet World Stats Usage and Population Statistics, 72.5 percent of the U.S. population is online. And according to Reuters, 70 percent of Americans believe that traditional journalism is out of touch. “More Americans turning to Web for News,” Reuters.com, Feb 29, 2008. Not surprisingly, the Internet has shown the biggest increase in popularity as a news source, with 31 percent of Americans now saying it is a daily news source. This marks a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006 and a more than 100 percent increase since 2002. Use of the Internet as a news source has increased each time Gallup has asked about it, beginning in 1995.

A recent scientific survey found that peer-to-peer opinions are considered the most credible and have more influence on the Internet today. For example, it was found that employee spokespeople are considered more trustworthy than chief executive officer spokespeople as sources for information about a company. The survey also found that trust in “a person like me” as a source for information about a company skyrocketed to 58 percent agreement in 2008 from only 20 percent in 2003. Consumer marketing professionals know that understanding this new sociological formation of social media communities and listening to the peer-to-peer communication is fundamental to the task of publicizing a new product or trend.

Through tracking the social media on message boards, in readers’ discussions, in the news media and in blogs, litigators can study attitudes about a subject, client or case. They can learn unknown or little-known attitudes and opinions, leading to more informed jury research and, therefore, a wiser trial strategy. There is an abundance of reader reactions to news stories on blogs and in online comments that provides a whole new access to what the potential jury pool is thinking about cases that have been publicized.

Without the vast information available via a social media study, litigators could be missing valuable attitudes and opinions (both widespread and local) to test during jury research exercises. For example, a recent social media study found that although the mainstream news media were predominantly negative about alleged corruption by a local government official, there existed in fact widely divergent opinions. Social media analysis conducted before trial found a larger number than expected of supporters for that official. The arguments used in support of the defendant were similar to those found in a formal jury research exercise and ultimately those that prevailed with the jury. The trial was decided largely in favor of the defendant, even though early reports were unanimous that public opinion was against him.

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