Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Twitter: the Newest Member of the Jury?

Twitter, for me personally, has been a great source of information, a networking tool and has unleashed an immeasurable supply of thought-provoking concepts via my contacts and the chats that I participate in.

Because of my love for writing and my background in journalism, I always try to participate in the weekly Monday night #journchat moderated by @PRsarahevans. Last night’s chat posed a topic that really made me think as well as wonder what others thought about the possibility as well.  The question, originated by @sarah_millar read: “Should reporters be allowed to live-tweet from courtrooms? Bloggers?”

Although not wanting to speak for @sarah_millar, I am assuming the general concept of the question came from an article in the Canadian newspaper the National Post covering the use of such social media tools in a recent court case involving convicted murderer Russell Williams (I deduce this because a link to the article was included in the tweeted question).

The controversy in this particular case is surrounding Williams’ lawyer’s claims that: 

Journalists inside the courtroom were being traumatized by lurid images displayed on big screens while simultaneously racing to send comments on Twitter and other instant messaging services. "What resulted from time to time was crude, unnecessary, misplaced tweet comments,"

I highly recommend reading the full article; it’s an interesting new hurdle lawyers will now have to consider and is something that will likely become an issue in our own court system very soon.

The question caught my attention for two reasons: one, it’s a fascinating debate that has valid points for both sides of the argument and two, I was surprised that it has yet to become an issue since, if we’re being honest, we are nation of social media addicts.

Responses to the issue ranged from a simple yet to the point “Yes” from @joegullo to “I don’t think live tweeting in courtrooms is a good idea – talk about trying a case in the media?!” from @tressalynne.  

My initial reaction was an absolute yes. When journalists are permitted into the courtroom to cover a trial, why should there be a restriction on how the information is disseminated? The information collected by the reporters will be released to the public, it may take a day or two longer with the “traditional” means of reporting, but it will become public knowledge just the same. However, @robinkd caused me pause when she responded “Let reporters live tweet court coverage and be liable for errors…”

That brought me back to my days of sitting in on a high profile, emotional case in my small hometown. I can’t tell you how many times the notes I was taking had to be erased or edited because of misquotations and statements being stricken from the record. If we were to have introduced live tweeting into that situation, I could be in a lot of trouble right now. Just as quickly as something is said, it can be tweeted, and once it’s tweeted there really is no taking it back. If people are following your coverage of the case and you tweet something that is then requested to be stricken from the record, you can technically delete the tweet, but it will still have been read and potentially retweeted numerous times. By then, you’re in way deeper than you ever thought possible. At least when reporters cover a trial and report on it the “traditional” way, misquotations and stricken statements have time to be corrected before being published.

So, I am officially undecided on this issue. I can see both the positive and negative consequences live tweeting and blogging from the courtroom can cause. I do, however, want to hear your opinions on the issue. Do you think live tweeting and/or blogging from a courtroom should be allowed? Why or why not? What are the positive consequences that this would create? What are the potential negative consequences?

If you’re on twitter, be sure to follow me @prmelissalee!

No comments:

Post a Comment