Trial by Social Media: how do you find the jury, guilty or not guilty?
Authors: Taylor, J.
Start date: 3 September 2015
The growth of social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook has made it easier than ever to access information and opinions associated with criminal proceedings, and viewing or discussing such media could influence jurors, reducing their impartiality. Pre-trial details have long been an issue with the easy availability of traditional mass media (such as TV and newspapers), however social media make such information even more accessible and also difficult to avoid. The aim of this study was to explore whether viewing comments and opinions posted onto social networking websites influenced the verdicts of mock jurors in their individual and group decisions. 72 undergraduate participants were recruited and formed twelve 6-person mock juries. All participants received information regarding a murder trial and participants were exposed to various experimental conditions in the form of biased social media comments which were negative, positive or neutral towards the defendant. A control condition of non-exposure was also used in which participants received only the trial information. Participants were required to give both individual and collective decisions on the verdict and an indication of their confidence in their decisions. The results showed that prior to mock jury discussion, exposure to negatively-biased social media comments significantly increased the number of guilty verdicts given individually by jurors and exposure to positively-biased social media significantly increased the number of not guilty verdicts given individually by jurors. However, these biased effects disappeared following mock jury deliberations. Also, participants reported a significantly higher confidence rating in their post-deliberation verdict, than the ratings pre-deliberations. The implications of these findings are that jurors are likely to be influenced by social media and unable to remain impartial before a trial, but that jury discussion will remove these prejudices. The findings support much of the group and jury literature where group decisions are shown to be superior to individual decisions as they help to remove biases. Further research is suggested where participants interact actively with social media, rather than passively view other’s comments.