In the current age of digital and social media, juror use of social media is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing courts and litigants. In this four-part series, Paul Zimmerman highlights some of the problems associated with juror use of social media, including juror misconduct, disregard for courts’ instructions and threats to impartiality. Paul offers suggestions for minimizing misconduct and stresses the need for specific jury instructions to address social media concerns.
Read the introduction to this series here.
Facebook is a popular social networking website that allows registered users to create profiles, upload photos and video, send messages and keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues. The site, which is available in 37 different languages, includes public features such as:
- Marketplace – allows members to post, read and respond to classified ads.
- Groups – allows members who have common interests to find each other and interact.
- Events – allows members to publicize an event, invite guests and track who plans to attend.
- Pages – allows members to create and promote a public page built around a specific topic.
- Presence technology – allows members to see which contacts are online and chat.
Within each member’s personal profile, there are several key networking components. The most popular is arguably the timeline, which is essentially a virtual bulletin board. Messages left on a member’s timeline can include text, video or photos. Another popular component is the virtual photo album. Photos can be uploaded from the desktop or directly from a cell phone camera. An interactive album feature allows the member’s contacts (who are generically called “friends”) to comment on each other’s photos and identify (tag) people in the photos. Users can freely change the content and the privacy settings of their profile pages, which they use to control who can see the content.
Twitter is a social network and real-time communication service launched in 2006 and used by millions of people and organizations to quickly share and discover information. The word Twitter comes from the frequent chirping sound made by birds, hence the bird used in the Twitter logo. Users can access the site via the web and mobile devices to exchange frequent bite-sized updates of information called “tweets,” which are messages of up to 140 characters that anyone can send or read. Though tweets can be made private, these messages are public by default and visible to all those who are following the tweeter.
Twitter allows you to follow other users you are interested in so that you’ll see their updates on your home page, which is an aggregate feed of all the accounts you’re following. Tweets can contain things like photos, videos, quotes, article links and more. Each tweet can also have replies from other people creating real-time conversations around hot topics, breaking news and interesting new content. Twitter was able to disrupt traditional point-to-point messaging systems like email by providing this one-to-many interface for rapid content delivery and search. This open networking environment has also led to an entire ecosystem built around the Twitter platform coined the “Twitterverse.”
Words and phrases (both real and contrived) can be labeled with a “hashtag” (e.g., #socialmedia), which allows a user to rapidly search and retrieve tweets containing that hashtag from throughout the Twitterverse. These tweets are from users with whom the person searching may have previously had no connection.
Several other social media platforms exist, with varying degrees of application and popularity. Younger people have been shying away from Facebook, and moving toward platforms such as Instagram (which uses pictures, rather than searchable text), Snapchat (which is intended to automatically delete after a few seconds), and Vine (posts of short videos). Also, dozens, if not hundreds, of other social media websites target specific industries, hobbies, demographics, or are simply vying to be “the next big thing.”
“Blog” is an abbreviated version of “weblog,” which is a term used to describe Web sites that maintain an ongoing chronicle of information. A blog features diary-type commentary and links to articles on other Web sites, usually presented as a list of entries in reverse chronological order. Many blogs focus on a particular topic, such as politics, web design, home staging, sports, or mobile technology. Some are more eclectic, presenting links to all types of other sites. And others are more like personal journals, presenting the author’s daily life and thoughts.
Generally speaking (although there are exceptions), blogs tend to have a few things in common:
- A main content area with articles listed chronologically, with the newest on top. Often, the articles are organized into categories.
- An archive of older articles.
- A method for people to post comments about the articles.
- A list of links to other related sites, sometimes called a “blogroll.”
- One or more “feeds” like RSS, Atom or RDF files.
Rapidly gaining popularity among mostly the younger crowd is Instagram. Similar to Facebook, posts on a user’s Instagram page are limited to pictures and short videos. Even when text is posted, it is in the form of a graphic file. Pictures that are uploaded can be given a title and the titles can be searched. Users can be friends with other users, have access to their pages, and post on each other’s pages.
Through various forms of social media, posted messages can spread quickly through multiple and even exponentially increasing users. Twitter users can “re-tweet” a tweet or send tweets to the user’s own followers. Facebook users can “like,” comment on, or share a post, all of which attract the attention of more users to the post. As more users of social media find a post, the more additional users the post will reach, like an internet version of a chain letter.