Survey Looks at New Media and the Courts

By Davey, Chris; Salaz, Karen | Judicature, November/December 2010 | Go to article overview

Survey Looks at New Media and the Courts

Davey, Chris, Salaz, Karen, Judicature

A first-of-its-kincl nationwide survey on new media and ihe courts shows that stale judges and court staff recognize the potential impact of social media on the administration of justice and are taking a close look at hoth the ramifications and opportunities. More than a third of state court judges and magistrates responding to the survey said iliey have used social media either in their personal or professional lives. But the survey also found that n early hall of the judges who responded disagreed when asked if a judge - in a professional capacity - could participate in social networking sites without compromising ethical codes of conduct. Federal judges were not a part of the survey.

While only a fraction of courts around the country report establishing their own social networking sites, almost all the respondents agreed that judges and court employees needed to be educated about socalled "new media" - from Facebook and Twitter to smartphones - and learn how their use might impact day-to-day operations in their courthouses.

The survey findings were part of a yearlong national collaborative research project that for the first time measured the impact of new media on the courts. Courts have taken a cautious approach toward new media because of concerns about effects on ethics and court proceedings. Some courts also are exploring how these new communication tools can be used to support public understanding of the courts.

The project was conducted by the Conference of Court Public Information Officers, an organization of more than 100 communications professionals working in state and lederai courts in the United Slates and worldwide. Partners in the project include the National Center for State Courts, the nation's leading center for research assistance to the nation's state court systems, and the KAV. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. The complete project report, "New Media and the Courts: The Current Status and A Look at the Future" is available on the CCPlO website at

The report examines efforts and involvement by the NCSC, Conference (CCJ), Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), National Association foiCourt Management (NACM). Reynolds Center for Courts and the Media, and oilier parties in exploring what the new media landscape means for the judicial system.

The report predicts thai in the coming years, courts will re-examine slate codes of conduct for judges and judicial employees, model jury instructions, rules on cameras in the courtroom, and other areas. It makes other forecasts and also recommends further research and specific steps for the judicial community to continue to respond productively to new media. The report also documents the history of new media, the different types of technology impacting courts, and offers a forecast and recommendations for courts in furthering the use of new media. Much of the information for the development of the survey was gathered using an online community through the social media site Ning at

A new media landscape

The report describes a new media landscape characterized by:

* Emerging interactive social media technologies that are powerfully multimedia in nature.

* Fundamental and continuing changes in the economics, operation, and vitality of the news industry that courts have traditionally relied on to connect with the public.

* Broader cultural changes in how7 the public receives and processes information and understands the world.

Courts have responded more cautiously to new media because of unique incongruities between the two cultures:

* New media aie decentrali/ed and multidirectional, while the courts are institutional and largely unidirectional.

* New media are personal and intimate, while the courts are separate, even cloistered, and, by definition, independent.

* New media are multimedia, incorporating video and still images, audio, and text, while the courts are highly textual.

While new media impact almost even facet of court operations from the delivery of sen-ires to balancing privacy and public access in managing court records, the CCPIO report focuses on three areas specifically related to the mandate that courts support public trust and confidence in the judicial system: 1) Effects on cour I proceedings. 2) EfIVc YS on ethics and conduct for judges and court employees. 3) Effects on courts' ability to promote understanding and public trust and confidence in the judicial branch.

The report identifies seven categories of new media technology that impact the courts, and these technologies are explored in detail:

Social media profile sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Linkedln, Ning). These sites allow users to join, creale profiles, share information, and view still and video images with a defined network of "friends."

Microbi ogging (e.g., Twitter, Tumblr, Plurk). Microbi ogging is a form of multimedia Hogging that allows users to send and follow brief text updates or micromedia, such as photos or audio clips, and publish them on a website for viewing by everyone who visits the website or by a restricted group. Microbloggers can submit messages a variety of ways, including text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, or digital audio.

Smart Phones, Tablets & Notebooks (e.g., iPhone, Droid, Blackberry). This category is defined by those mobile devices that can caplure audio, as well as still and video images, and post them directly to the Internet. These devices aJso enable users to access the Internet, send and receive e-mails and instant messages, and otherwise connect with online networks and communities through broadband or VVi-Fi access.

Monitoring and metrics (e.g., Addictomatic, SociaJSeek, Social Mention, Google's Social Search, Quantcast). This category includes the large and increasing body of sites that aggregate information about Internet traffic patterns and what is posted on social media sites. They display analyses of how a particular entity is portrayed or understood by die public.

News categorizing, sharing and syndication e.g., blogs, RSS, Digg, Reddit, This is a broad category that includes websites and technology thai enable the easy sharing of information, photos and video, and the categorization and ranking of news stories, posts Io blogs, and other news items.

Visual Media Sharing (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, FIikr). These siles allow users to upload still and video images that are stored in searchable databases and easily shared, and can be e-matled, posted, or embedded into nearly any website.

Wikis. A wiki is a website that allows for the easy creation and editing of multiple interlinked Web pages via a Web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-whalyou-gel) text editor. Among the uses for wikis are the creation of collaborative information resource websites, power community websites, and corporate inlranets. The most widely recognized and used wiki is the collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia. Another much lesser known \viki that has impact on the judicial system and is the subject of study in the New Media Project is fudgepedia.

Survey results

An estimated 16,000 individuals iu the court community were invited to participate using an online survey tool administered by NOSG between June 16 and 25, 2010. Federal judges were not included in the distribution. About 810 respondents completed the entire survey while another 789 submitted partially completed surveys. Highlights include:

* About 40 percent of responding judges reported they are on social media profile sites, the majority of these on Facebook. This is almost identical io the percentage of the adult U.S. population using these sites.

* Judges who are appointed and do not stand for re-election were much less likely to be on social media profile sites. About 9 percent from non-elected jurisdictions reported they were on diese sites.

* Judges appear to be more comfortable with using these sites in their personal lives, with 34 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement "Judges can use social media profile sites, such as Facebook, in their personal lives without compromising professional conduct codes of ediics."

* More than half (56 percent) of judges report routine juror instructions that include some component about new media use during the trial.

* A very small fraction of courts (7 percent) currently have social media profile sites like Facebook; 7 percent use niicroblogging sites like Twiner; and 3 percent use visual media sharing sites like YouTube.

* A smaller proportion of judges than might be expected ( 10 percent) reported witnessing jurors using social media profile sites, microblogging sites, or smart phones, tablets, or notebooks in the courtroom.

* Almost all (98 percent) respondents agree that judges and court employees should be educated about appropriate new media use and practices.

Future Trends

The report concludes witJi predictions about die near future of new media and the courts:

* More courts will develop official presences on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites.

* More judges will be on Facebook, both professionally and personally.

* Courts will continue to become primary content providers and develop multimedia communication capabilities.

* Public information officers and information technology officers will form stronger partnerships and collaborative operations.

[Author Affiliation]


is Director of Public Information, Supreme Court of Ohio.



is District Administrator, Colorado 19th Judicial District.


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