Late last month the Conference of Court Public Information Officers released the results of a nearly year-long study entitled, New Media and the Courts – The Current Status and a Look at the Future. I have anxiously been awaiting this report. I believe it will play a major role as we outline the activity of Order in the Court 2.0.

I first became aware of this study as I prepared my Knight News Challenge proposal. During the submission process, I consulted quite frequently with one of the co-authors of the CCPIO report, Chris Davey. Davey and I agreed that if I was fortunate enough to get funding we would test some of the ideas that surfaced in the CCPIO report.

The Survey

More than 16,000 individuals in the court community were invited to participate in the electronic survey. Of the 810 individuals who completed the full survey, 254 (or 31.3 percent) were judges or magistrates. The majority of the respondents were court system staff. Partners in the project include the National Center for State Courts, the nation’s leading center for research assistance to the nation’s state court systems, and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Though the response to the survey was somewhat limited, there are some compelling topics outlined in CCPIO’s final report. For those of you who don’t want to take the time to read the 100-plus pages of text, I’ve boiled down some of the highlights in the text below.

Major Objectives

From the report:

The CCPIO New Media Project had five primary objectives: (1) clearly define the current technology, (2) systematically examine the ways courts use the technology, (3) empirically measure the perceptions of judges and top court administrators toward the technology, (4) collect and analyze the literature on public perceptions of the judiciary and court public outreach programs and (5) offer a framework and analysis for judges and court administrators to use for making decisions about the appropriate use of new media.

Court Culture vs. New Media Culture

The study succinctly described the culture clash between the courts and new media realities:

  • New media are decentralized and multidirectional, while the courts are institutional and largely unidirectional.
  • New media are personal and intimate, while the courts are separate, even cloistered, and, by definition, independent.
  • New media are multimedia, incorporating video and still images, audio and text, while the courts are highly textual.

Checklist on Using Social Media in the Courtroom

Probably the most important part of the report for us at Order in the Court 2.0 is found in Appendix B. There you’ll find a valuable checklist that we plan to incorporate into our project. I’ve edited the checklist, but have tried to retain its essence. Here’s the edited checklist:

  • What do you want to achieve? Public Education? Release of decisions? Highlight the activities of individual judges or courts? Explain court processes and procedures? Develop ongoing dialogues with the public to increase transparency?
  • How will you know if the resources you are dedicating to social media technologies are a good investment of time and money?
  • Do you have an efficient mechanism to monitor these technologies on a regular basis to ensure quality control?
  • Does your organization have a policy on how to handle defamatory or inappropriate remarks posted to social media sites outside the department?
  • What kind of involvement should the court’s information technology division have in the decision to use social media technologies.
  • What are the technical requirements of introducing social media technology?
  • Are there criteria in place as to what topics can and cannot be discussed?
  • What safeguards are in place to ensure nothing is posted that jeopardizes a case or trial?
  • Do you have a prepared plan of action in place in the event a spectator is inappropriately using new media technology in your courtroom?

You can see we have a lot of work ahead of us.