August 27, 2014
The use of social media has woven its way into our everyday lives – including in courtrooms nationwide. In a report released in June of this year, the estimated engagement of Federal and State Appellate courts in social media is 25% and 50% respectively. Effective management of social media is an issue many courts are facing today, and is expected to broaden in scope in future years.
Recently, the District of Columbia Superior Court has launched an online chat portal – where the public can ask questions and get immediate feedback from court representatives. According to the D.C. Bar, Superior Court Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield said, “The live chat feature that our high-volume Civil Division is adding is just the most recent step in many efforts we are making to help the public, especially those who come to the court without representation by an attorney.” In 2013, the Chief Justices even held an online twitter chat for Law Day 2013 where Chief Judge Eric Washington of the D.C. Court of Appeals and Lee Satterfield of the D.C. Superior Court tweeted with participants back and forth on various topics – participants included attorneys, residents, and reporters.
California Courts manages a YouTube channel where discussions and reports can be recorded and posted as a means to disseminate court information to the interested public. This forum is also used to communicate court news and activities. Utah State courts also have a YouTube channel with content that ranges from videos of a Law Day panel to training sessions for employees and court orientation sessions for visitors. In Hawaii, Hawaiian Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald delivered his year’s biennial State of the Judiciary address on the Hawaii Judiciary’s YouTube channel. This was the first time the address was delivered via social media.
In Texas, the state Office of Court Administration has a Facebook page, allowing for an open forum to communicate activities, events, news, and more to the public. The Colorado Judicial Branch also has a Facebook page where hearing information, news items, and coverage on various judicial ceremonies as well as community outreach events are posted.
Twitter has recently become an additional outlet for courts. The Maricopa County Superior Court has more than 6,000 followers on their @courtpio twitter handle where they utilize the medium to communicate updates on cases, case rulings and sentencing’s, as well as general information about the court. In Tennessee, @TNCourts twitter handle is used to communicate news and information from Tennessee Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Criminal Court of Appeals & trial courts provided by the court’s public information office. Currently, they have nearly 5,000 followers.
While these are all model examples of the benefits to utilizing social media as a communication tool for courts, there are just as many examples of “social media gone wrong”. Remember the Anthony Weiner scandal or the tweet by Washington State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbons, where he stated that Arizona was a “desert racist wasteland” after his beloved Seattle Seahawks lost to the Arizona Cardinals? Badly chosen personal and professional postings about cases, lawyers, witnesses, litigants or personal opinions can compromise the integrity of the court and judicial process. Those too serve as a cautionary tale that reinforces the need for courts to develop policies when it comes to social media communication. Take a look at the “Resource Packet for Developing Guidelines on Use of Social Media by Judicial Employees” which was developed by the Judicial Conference of the United States, Committee on Codes of Conduct and is an informative guide to assist courts in this new social media age. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has also developed informative pages on their website called “Social Media and the Courts Network” with the intention of courts utilizing these resources as they navigate into the social media world.
For a list of courts and their social media usage, refer to this complete listing as posted on the NCSC website. Social Media and the Courts
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