High-profile criminal trials, social media conversations and juror prejudice: understanding media regulation in the digital age

Rachel Jane Hews

Abstract


Governments and courts around the world are increasingly concerned about the potential impact of social media on the fairness of criminal trials and its effect on legal systems. There are serious concerns about the potential for information that might prejudice an ongoing trial to be spread through social media in a way that is not as easily controlled as information disseminated through mainstream media. This has caused concern throughout the criminal justice system about the potential for social media conversations containing prejudicial information to cause juror bias and, therefore, to jeopardise the right to a fair trial. Importantly, however, studies in this area to date have largely focused on legal doctrine or jury experiences, and there has been little media-based empirical research to establish whether these concerns are supported. This paper uses digital methods to investigate how prejudicial information about high-profile criminal trials flows on social media. Specifically, it uses a discourse analysis of tweets and comments from Facebook public pages about two high-profile murder trials in Australia: the murder of Allison Baden-Clay and the murder of Jamie Gao. It then considers whether traditional media regulation is fit for the digital age.

Keywords


social media, criminal trials, juror prejudice, law, digital methods

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