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Social Justice

 

I’ve been following the Casey Anthony trial slightly over the last few weeks, watching the @OSCaseyAnthony and @CaseyUpdates accounts on Twitter. The case is awful, you never want to see a child deceased as an alleged result of neglect, and there are a number of social media pieces that have now come up in trial. 

  • Casey reported her child missing, and attempted to garner support from friends on Facebook. (Read More
  • Pictures from Photobucket show her partying it up (even a guy grabbing her breast). (Read More)
  • Allegedly her former lawyer had a Youtube video of himself running naked with an unnamed man. (Read More)

Both @OSCaseyAnthony and @CaseyUpdates (run by the Orlando Sentinel and WESH respectively) have been presenting the proceedings in real-time on Twitter and Facebook, and the substance of this content is nothing to question. The reporting is perfectly unbiased, and being inside the courtroom allows them to report on the subtle details such as: “Casey smiled to her brother Lee as he took the stand.” (@caseyupdates)

But taking a fair and balanced look at things, these accounts are using her real face for the Twitter account avatars.  Multiple Facebook pages are dedicated to her in a a plethora of ways ranging from a straight updates page to a Watch Casey Anthony Get Fat page

Are these pages not damaging to her image and humiliating to her as a person? Put the legality of likeness, case details and evidence aside, we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. If, and I say if for the sake of fair reporting, she were to be deemed innocent, what would be said of the thousands who have come to view and identify her with the negative comments surrounding all these pages with her face attached?


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Now I’m all for fair and balanced journalism, and the ability for new technology to open and inform. But I’d like to pose the question:

Is Social Media in the Courtroom going too far?

I invite comments below. This is meant to start a discussion.

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This same issue has been raised all around the country, as well as in Canada. Not only is there a multitude of personal critical details pushed out into the public, but other court information raises safety as well.

In the US

“We’ve determined that jurors have had access and been posting information on Facebook. If it’s a high media or high profile trial, they’ve been getting responses from their friends saying, maybe you’re going to be on so and so’s case…I’ve noted the problem of people trying to take pictures in the courtroom of witnesses, of jurors, to pass on to others for, you know, you have to guess what the reason might really be…” (NPR)

In Canada:

“I had a case recently in Brampton where a witness

who was about to be called by the prosecution was sitting in the corridor on his Facebook account on a cellphone, changing his status and threatening the accused from the courtroom outside”  (The Canadian Press)

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I wanted to get an expert’s opinion on the subject of journalistic integrity in the courtroom, so I spoke with Professor Roy S. Gutterman. A former journalist and lawyer, he currently serves as the Director of the Tully Center for Free Speech and Professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University:

“Social or Traditional Media aside, Wether a defendant gets a fair trial is the duty of the judge. It’s the judge’s role to ensure the jury isn’t tainted by extra-judiciary sources, be that a news article, TV story, or Facebook wall post. These [social media] are the new tools of the trade. It’s a journalist’s responsibility to get information to the people. When before you might have to wait for a court sketch or go to the library to look up the microfilm of a court proceeding, now it’s available with a quick internet search.”

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To me, I think it’s great that through new technology, we are able to report in real-time, and I agree with Professor Gutterman that these are the tools of the trade now. But when we take someone and throw them into the spotlight on social media, I think it’s important to be a responsible moderator (if you are a credible outlet) and act as an unbiased extension of actual court proceedings.

I’m no expert on the legal system and I only have a minor in journalism, so I’m excited to hear what my journo friends think, but I’m impressed with how the Sentinel and WESH have covered this trial, and I’d love to know what everyone else thinks about the coverage, as well as thoughts on Social Media’s Role in Court Reporting.

UPDATE (As of 3:45 pm 3/24/11)

There is a “Fake” Judge Perry Twitter account, @JudgePerrySays under operation by @caseyupdates. This account is documenting the exchanges from Judge Perry in the courtroom. 

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