ABA Social Media Advisory Opinion

By Gray, Cynthia | Judicature, March/April 2013 | Go to article overview
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ABA Social Media Advisory Opinion


Gray, Cynthia, Judicature


In February, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued an advisory opinion stating that "a judge may participate in electronic social networking, but as with all social relationships and contacts, a judge must comply with relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and avoid any conduct that would undermine the judge's independence, integrity, or impartiality, or create an appearance of impropriety."

The committee cautioned that "judges must be very thoughtful in their interactions with others, particularly when using ESM [electronic social media]" and "assume that comments posted to an ESM site will not remain within the circle of the judge's connections."

The committee also described the "obvious differences between in-person and digital social interactions."

In contrast to fluid, face-to-face conversation that usually remains among the participants, messages, videos, or photographs posted to ESM may be disseminated to thousands of people without the consent or knowledge of the original poster. Such data have long, perhaps permanent, digital lives such that statements may be recovered, circulated or printed years after being sent. In addition, relations over the internet may be more difficult to manage because, devoid of in-person visual or vocal cues, messages may be taken out of context, misinterpreted, or relayed incorrectly.

The committee reminded judges that, "while sharing comments, photographs, and other information," a judge must keep in mind the requirement that a judge act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and stated that a judge should not form relationships with persons or organizations that may convey an impression that the persons or organizations are in a position to influence the judge.

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