Social media’s ‘offline jury’ makes “innocent until proven guilty” difficult in the Casey Anthony Case

Frequently compared to the highly-publicized O.J. Simpson trial, many are saying the Casey Anthony trial is to social media what the O.J. Simpson trial was to cable television. While many Americans have been glued to HLN, CNN and other news channels these past two months, watching the events that will ultimately lead to the fate of a young mother accused of killing her two year old daughter, many have also been connected to this case via social media channels. Unlike the O.J. Simpson trial coverage, the media is not the sole outlet for exposure in the case of ‘Florida vs. Casey Anthony’. Through social media, people now have the opportunity to participate in court cases in way never before thought possible.

Emerging technology has provided a global audience with a coveted front row ticket to the trial named “Social Media Trial of the Century” by Time Magazine. From the first frantic message posted by Casey’s mother, Cindy Anthony, on MySpace in July of 2008, to social media affecting the selection of the jury, MySpace posts and search engine usage being used as evidence in the trial, and finally to the live twitter stream , social media has played a significant role in the controversial trial.

Casey Anthony Updates on Facebook
Sam Diaz, a Silicon Valley-based social-media expert and consultant, points to social media as the fuel to recent world news —”Social media has allowed everyone an instant megaphone on the Internet, to express, argue and form opinions instantly,” Diaz said. “In the old days, we used to watch a newscast or read a news story. Now we get things so quickly that we are immediately reacting and feeling passionate.”

Mainstream journalists are tweeting from inside the courtroom where Anthony is being tried so people can get notified about court proceedings as they occur. Nearly 40 seats are reserved for local and national media, and bloggers who cover the trial on a daily basis. These credentialed media are allowed to use smartphones, iPads and other devices to disseminate information in real time.

Those following the trial can watch  live-streaming video and then discuss ( or even argue) with others in the Orlando Sentinel’s online-chat room (which has attracted up to 124,680 people per day). In 140 characters, those on twitter can hashtag #CaseyAnthony to view and participate in a never-ending conversation. These hashtags connect the conversation about the topic and makes it searchable. Twitter accounts such as @NinthCircuitFL, which is managed by the 9th Judicial Circuit Court, are adding hundreds of followers each day due to their up to the minute trial coverage. With the click of a mouse, those following the trial can also use Facebook to instantly publish their thoughts about the trial to their online friends. The Facebook Page “Casey Anthony Updates” has over a whopping 109,635’ likes’. As if that wasn’t enough, there are iPhone apps that stream the live feed straight from your phones. These apps have rapidly become best sellers in the paid news category in the App Store. Even an online press release regarding the Casey Anthony trial and attorney Jose Baez is now a top story on both Google News and Yahoo News.

“People from all over are seeing our release involving the Casey Anthony trial we distributed for a client,” says Shannon Hannon Oliviero, executive director of marketing and client services for PR NewsChannel. “The online press release has been viewed thousands of times from all parts of the world and shared more than three times that on social media.”

To say the least, the “online jury,” is not shy about sharing their feelings and thoughts on the trial or on the defendant. Numerous blogs have been created regarding the case, and Facebook and Twitter posts are consistently published as the trial progresses. Does communication via these popular social platforms affect the proceedings inside the courtroom? A recent study found that peer-to-peer opinions are considered the most credible and have more influence on the Internet today. Internet marketing professionals know that understanding the sociological formation of social media communities and listening to the peer-to-peer communication is fundamental to the task of effectively publicizing the brands in which they represent. In the minds of many social media users, reviews and online opinions have become the source to get authentic, objective news, making the relationship between social media and the legal system a complicated one.

There is no doubt that online reputations can impact court cases. But is this communication influencing the proceedings inside the courtroom? Persuasive communications expert Juliet Huck told WebProNews that the judge in this case had a difficult job on his hands in terms of keeping the online influences away from the jury. Social media has become such a dominant player in society that it is a challenge to keep it away from even the most conventional practices like the legal system.

#caseyanthony trial and social media

What can we learn from social media’s role in this case? Developments in technology are making court cases available to the masses, as a result, forever changing the way the public participates in the legal system, the way news is consumed, and how public opinions are formed. As millions of online users try to make sense of this nonsensical action: the murder of a 2-year-old girl, social media provides the opportunity to keep up with literally every moment of this capital murder trial. Bottom line: the Casey Anthony trial is only proof of what is to come, from now on it will be extremely difficult for the legal system to have sole control over all of the evidence and news that is released before, during and long after the verdict.

Have you leveraged social media platforms to stay up-to-date with the Casey Anthony trial or others? What are your thoughts on social media’s impact on the legal system?

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