The recent explosion of social media use, combined with the proliferation of smart phones, tablets, and other small computers, is presenting new challenges to state and federal court judges whose duty it is to ensure the fairness of court proceedings. Journalists now routinely tweet the news, and Americans go everywhere with phones in hand, including to court. Many people are accustomed to constantly communicating with family, friends, and colleagues. Therefore, courts must grapple with issues such as whether reporters should be permitted to blog or tweet news and commentary from the courtroom, who qualifies as a reporter in this day of citizen journalism, and whether citizens have the same rights as reporters to use their smartphones in court.
Preliminary research suggests that judges’ views on tweeting and blogging from the courtrooms depend largely on whether they view blogging and tweeting as similar to television reporting or as similar to conversations among people in and outside the courtroom. An important issue is whether the newer technologies are physically and psychologically disruptive, which have been the justifications for banning television and still cameras from many courtrooms for decades.
As judges struggle with these issues, so do practicing attorneys who are arguing for or against the use of social media in courtrooms. This article will provide judges and attorneys with an analysis of the relevant law and an overview of scholarly research that addresses the central questions in this debate.
This article will begin with an overview of the major case precedents on public and media access to courtrooms and then survey the current state of the law on reporter and citizen use of social media in federal and state courts. The article also will summarize the scholarly literature from the fields of mass communication and Internet studies on how social media are similar to and different from traditional media. The article will conclude by suggesting best arguments for and against allowing the media and/or citizens to use social media in court.