Social Media and the Law

Social media’s entrenchment in our lives has grown exponentially deeper in the last year alone, with 600,000 million members on Facebook, Twitter’s central role in social and political protests all over the world, and Google’s introduction of +1 and Google Plus, among many others.
Social media has spread beyond retail and business use to medical, and now legal, industries as well. The Casey Anthony case in the United States is the first major example of how legal teams are using media to their advantage.

Casey Anthony’s trial captivated attention across the US and abroad, and the public was not shy about sharing their opinions. Tens of thousands did so via social media and blogs. Casey Anthony’s defense team combed through these and used them to develop a trial strategy. Accused of killing her almost-3 year old daughter, Anthony sought to shift the blame onto her parents, particularly her father. Trial consultant Amy Singer says, “When bloggers and others in social media site started to attack George Anthony about his alleged mistress, the defense team beefed up their questions against him. None of the bloggers ever changed their minds about him.”

Time magazine called Casey Anthony’s trial the “social media trial of the century,” and Florida A&M professor Shiv Persaud said, “This is the first time I have heard of this kind of consulting for a trial and it’s incredible…We could benefit from a new type of tool we didn’t have before.” While the first, the Anthony trial will certainly not be the last to use social media as a gauge of public opinion and an aid in strategy.

Police in the US have already begun using Facebook in order to track down fugitives, combing through status updates, links, photos, videos, calendars, and more, and social media evidence is being presented in court (as in the case of Jared Laughtner, who allegedly shot US Senator Gabrielle Giffords after posting warnings on MySpace just hours before).

While experts are not in agreement about whether social media helped Anthony win her case, most can agree that we will be seeing social media in the courtroom again soon.

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