The impact of social media on modern life continues to be felt on a daily basis. The latest was the decision by a district judge to allow tweeting from the court in the Julian Assange case, which was a significant moment in the development of open justice.
And as David Banks wrote in The Guardian on 15 December:
“The sky did not fall in as a result of yesterday’s tweeting, so why not allow it again? For the decision to gain wider acceptance we really need a crown court judge or high court judge to follow suit.”
In a recent blog I talked about how introducing cameras into courts, and even social media into courts, would support justice being seen to be done. And I outlined how hyperlocal websites could open a window onto the justice system. This latest case now makes that appear even closer. There is now clear possibility that in the future we may have more use of social media and networks from court cases. It could allow the public greater access to the legal system and really is the opportunity to see justice being done. Surely this is something that the media have been attempting to do over many years.
The brevity of tweets has been raised as a possible area of concern about possible contempt issues by not being able to sum up the activity in just 140 characters. But this should not be about a single tweet, it is about providing a string of tweets that together provide an insight into proceedings. And as Banks says the use of live blogs can help.
There is a concern that all this is still dependent on the traditional media infrastructure. The world is moving on and that is not the only way that information is now published. What we need is some clear guidance on this area and the legal issues. The face of communication in 2010 and 2011 is changing and the authorities need to keep pace. Simple guidelines would make it simpler for the citizen journalist or member of the public to understand their responsibilities and the issues, and would not be only for the trained journalist.
Just because we currently don’t have that guidance, as the recent case has shown, it will not stop the world moving on.
Open access to the courts is just part of the story about providing information to the public about issues that matter to them and their communities. Tweeting is now a regular occurrence at public meetings including council and police authority meetings. These feeds have an interest to those people affected. Currently the success of Twitter in these examples is very much dependent on the ability of the journalist to use social networks. In the future I am sure this is not going to be the case. We will see local people taking an interest and providing updates from a range of venues.
The more social networks such as Twitter become part of modern life, the more organisations need to keep up with the changing communication landscape. Failing to do so will put businesses and companies behind the public struggling to catch up. Organisations need to see it, understand it and start working with it – and they need to do it now.