Social Media in the Courthouse

The other day I heard about a rape case in Ohio that really caught my attention because of the role that social media is playing in the case.  According to the NYTimes, it was due to twitter and instagram that the case was first recognized.  The article is interesting because it discusses the role that internet played not only initially, but afterwards as well. I do not want to discuss this case  in particular, but I want to talk about court cases in general with regards to the role that technology is playing them today.    It used to be that someone would go to trial, and they were judged by a group of people that knew nothing about the person being accused of the crime but based their decision on the evidence that they saw in the courthouse.  But what happens when the case is all over the internet and TV? And what happens when everyone that is part of the jury has already made a decision about the people involved without ever even stepping into the courthouse.  Of course, they can say that they will be objective as possible, but the truth is that they will be primed by the information and opinions of others even if they are not fully aware of it.  With not only national coverage of the event but global coverage thanks to the internet, people come into the courthouse with a biased opinion.

Additionally, the jury is put under pressure to make a decision that is in unison with the popular opinion of others.  This throws out the idea of innocent until proven guilty because the person on trial might be already guilty or not guilty in the minds of the jury members.  Another aspect of these cases where everyone is already aware due to media or internet coverage of the story is that there is a possibility that someone maybe given a harsher punishment so that an example can be made out of them.  Now is it really fair if someone does the same crime as another person, but the consequences for them are better or worse because the story is so well known?

What I find most disturbing about cases such as these is that the victim of the crime has no privacy.  While a person in such instances may not want to remember the event, they will have to if they ever search their name on google. Getting over traumatic events is a difficult process as it is, but doesn’t making the event so public make it even harder?  I am sure a lot of people would not want to share such private matters that might be embarrassing, humiliating, degrading , or painful with the whole world.  And even if they do, it would be at a time when they are ready to discuss the matter.  But if the majority of the human population already knows, the victim has to discuss the event before they are emotionally ready and that to with strangers or the media.  I can only imagine that this would make it even more difficult for a victim to overcome what has happened.

Lastly, I want to talk about the effect that social media and internet can have on people who are not directly involved in the case.  A story that might have involved only 2 or 3 people can be turned into a case that the whole town is involved in.  It can give the people associated with those that were actually involved in the case a bad name too.  There are so many twists and turns that can come about when social media, the internet, and too many people are involved in a court case.  That maybe why there is a ban on social media during the Ohio rape case according to the NYtimes:

“No cellphones, iPads or laptops will be allowed inside Juvenile Court here on Wednesday when two high school football players go on trial on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl last summer. Anyone who wants to post on Twitter or a blog will have to leave the building to do so.

The ban, imposed to help ensure order in the courtroom, may be the first time that social media have been absent from a case that for months has been played out in the electronic world.”

What do you think about banning social media in certain places such as courts?

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2 thoughts on “Social Media in the Courthouse

  1. I think that social media such as instagram and twitter should be exclusively banned from court because of the impact these websites have on society. Some business is meant to be kept to yourself, not to always be shared with the world.

  2. To be honest I think that it should have been from the beginning. Even if there is little chance of a case gaining national attention, it is the under the courts authority to ensure that a fair trial is given. If the jury is contaminated by outside news sources about the case they are working on then the trial is not fair, as defined by the 6th Amendment.

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