A new study reveals that social media sites have a significant impact on legal cases. Of these, Facebook and Myspace had the most impact, followed closely by LinkedIn and Twitter. According to the study, approximately 700 legal cases have been impacted by social media over the last two years.
The Trayvon Martin case initially had only limited coverage. It was only after the outpouring of responses on social media sites that the crime, which occurred in a small town in Central Florida, received national news coverage. Investigators turned to social media sites to begin looking for clues. Because of the flow of information, George Zimmerman was apprehended within a month and a half. Subsequently, Zimmerman’s attorney opened up a Facebook page to confer with the public about new developments in the case.
Attorneys on both sides of the fence concede that social media was what earned the case global attention. The lawyer representing Martin’s family later commented that the cyber-social movements occurring in the wake of Trayvon’s death could very well change the way that criminal cases are investigated, tried and prosecuted in the future.
It is interesting to note that during a criminal or even civil trial, attorneys can advise their clients to deactivate their social media accounts, but not to delete them, as deleting them could result in the charge of destroying evidence. An attorney in New York was disbarred shortly after advising his client to go through his social media page and delete comments pertaining to an active criminal court case. Social media pages can be subpoenaed by attorneys on either side of the case during trial.
Judges also use social media to determine bias on behalf of the jurors. A juror was recently asked to step down after uploading a comment onto her social page saying that the defendant was guilty while the trial was still going on. Jurors are ordered not to log onto the internet or watch news pertaining to the case while the trial is still going on, as to maintain objectivity in reviewing the facts of the case.