Posted February 22, 2011 3:33 pm by with 5 comments

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As is the case in many things in life, just because a lot of people have something it doesn’t mean they know how to use it. Back in the Stone Age of video everyone had a VCR but no one could program the darn thing.

We are now seeing the same happen with social media. There are a lot of people with accounts or profiles or whatever in the social media space but that doesn’t mean they can harness the power of the medium or even understand much beyond updating a status.

One area that is getting more aggressive in its use of social media channels is the law. It is already fairly well known that divorce lawyers are using social media outlets to catch opposing spouses in compromising social media positions. Now lawyers are turning to social media to help clean up the jury pool before they go to trial.

The Wall Street Journal reports

Facebook is increasingly being used in courts to decide who is—and who isn’t—suitable to serve on a jury, the latest way in which the social-networking site is altering the U.S. court system.

Prosecution and defense lawyers are scouring the site for personal details about members of the jury pool that could signal which side they might sympathize with during a trial. They consider what potential jurors watch on television, their interests and hobbies, and how religious they are.

This is one of those developments that is generating significant talk from both sides of the argument. Lawyers love being able to turn over a rock on a perspective juror that reveals a potential bias that could hurt their client’s chances of victory. Not everyone connected to the law is happy about this development though.

Some legal experts oppose this growing practice of scouring social-media sites, arguing that the traditional jury-selection process, which involves lawyers questioning prospective jurors, provides more valuable information than out-of-context online comments.

“I don’t think we should abandon that system in favor of Internet snooping,” said Jason Schultz, co-director of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, law school. “There are a number people who post who they want to be, as opposed to who they are.”

No kidding? Really? People acting all unlike their real selves online? Well, looks like it’s time to pack up the plantation and move on because I though everyone was always honest online.

It’s getting pretty high tech in the world of law these days for sure. Here is one instance where this idea was applied

Armando Villalobos, the district attorney of Cameron County, Brownsville, Texas, last year equipped his prosecutors with iPads to scan the Web during jury selection.

He acknowledged that they sometimes dug up only the unprotected tidbits that Facebook users share with everyone, such as their alma mater or favorite band.

Many people, he said, limit access to more telling details to those they have “friended.” (It’s unclear, for example, what his prosecutors would glean from Mr. Villalobos’s own Facebook page, without friending him: It shows he is married and a fan of the TV show “Spartacus.”)

Now is where it gets pretty silly because we know that lawyers like to find ways around things. In order to help with getting more information on a jury pool the lawyer mentioned above, Mr. Villalobos, has come up with this possible scheme to help folks in a jury pool pass the time.

Mr. Villalobos is considering a method to get behind the site’s private wall to learn more. One option: granting members of the jury pool free access to the court’s wi-fi network in exchange for temporarily “friending” his office.

Would anybody really fall for that line? Whether they do or not, it looks like the legal field is certainly still willing to stretch the boundaries of anything as indicated by this quote from another lawyer.

Mr. Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County in Oregon, said that even small details, like a person’s favorite show, could say something about them. A predilection for crime shows, such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” tells Mr. Marquis that the prospective juror might have unrealistic expectations that DNA evidence could be obtained from every crime scene.

I wonder if my choice of Seinfeld as a favorite TV show makes me an unfeeling, self-centered, narcissistic person (or does that make me a Twitter guru?)?

Are there limits, in your opinion, as to how far this open information world we live in should go to? Are people really aware of what they are doing to themselves with their online behavior? I sincerely doubt it considering some of the things I have seen people do (and, admittedly some of the incredibly stupid moves I have made which has caused me to know just how my foot tastes).

But hey, if you can get out jury duty by just being yourself maybe there is an upside? What are your thoughts?

  • Cynthia

    I wonder what they’d make of my fondness for Vampire Diaries, Supernatural and Ghost Hunters?

  • e3cardreader

    Would anybody really fall for that line?
    i am sure no one could do this

  • Josh

    If you like Supernatural I’d probably keep you on the jury

  • Phil

    The trick is, if a person has a private account, is to go through their friends list (if it’s visible). You’d be surprised the dirt you can find on someone from a friends public profile.

  • Brooke

    I have jury duty coming up on Friday. I wonder should I just start joining fringe groups now? Just kidding. I guess it is good to have your privacy settings to the max. But then maybe liking The Real Housewives will finally pay off.