The Courts and Social Media

Library Boy told us last year about some tentative steps that courts were making to embrace – or to sniff around tentatively – the whole subject of social media. Today’s announcement from the UK Supreme Court that it will start official tweets of judgments – this in anticipation of the Assange extradition decision – represents the first wholesale adoption by a final court of appeal.

It overshadows Chief Justice McLachlin’s announcement within a speech at Carleton University on the Media and the Courts, that the Canadian judiciary should start to think seriously about social media.

See the Globe, the Star, CTV and the Halifax papers

You can see a brief video clip here.

I understand that the Australians may be thinking about the issues too.


  1. Apparently Ontario government deputy ministers have been instructed to ‘engage with’ Twitter. I don’t know what that means either.

    But I don’t get the appeal of Twitter anyway, for most purposes. Why would I want to have to find the Supreme Court’s tweets? Would I follow it until the decision I am interested in is announced, then unfollow or defollow, or whatever the appropriate verb is? Why wouldn’t I just go to the web site when the decision is about to come out. They can announce there when that will be.

    Otherwise I am sorting through a raft of irrelevant tweets from the various potential sources of interesting information, in the hope of finding something useful. Seems like a waste of time to me.

    But I figure if I don’t hear the news for a few hours, my life is not ruined, so maybe I have an attitude problem.

  2. John, I think your penultimate para is right: that’s how you’d do it: sorting through a stream of tweets to cull out useful stuff. It’s pretty much the way I read the newspaper anyway, letting my eye graze over headlines, sometimes subheads and less occasionally a few paragraphs in the article. At least with Twitter there’s only one paragraph and it’s always the lead para (though not always well written as such); whereas I’ve noticed lately that the newspapers have largely given up the inverted pyramid style and favour instead a “human interest” narrative opening.

    Twitter’s a newsy ticker tape, might be another way to say it.

  3. Twitter is indeed a lot like a “newsy ticker tape” when you just see tweets streaming in through a feed, but that analogy can be somewhat limiting.
    People who follow hundreds or thousands of Twitter accounts are likely not poring over all that data to find the interesting stories (although as Simon points out, it’s possible to glean a lot).
    Rather, they have likely set up lists (you can build Twitter lists of users based on whatever criteria you choose) and are viewing those lists as separate streams. So, if I’m a family lawyer who turns my eye to my mobile Twitter app a couple times a day, I may check one stream for family law related Twitter posts from other family lawyers, another for sports news, another with friend’s posts, etc. And if the Courts suddenly release a judgment that my family law community is finding interesting I may learn about it quite suddenly by seeing a number of retweets about the same case.
    The viral nature of Twitter often pushes the most noteworthy items to the top through retweets, and that’s one of the ways more significant news gets spread quickly. But I suppose you do need to work on how you use set up your Twitter streams and network.
    Now, in John’s case, I don’t think you would use Twitter at all to find that judgment that you know is coming down the pipe and are waiting for. There are better ways to get an alert for a case you know is coming.
    But once a court takes to announcing new judgments on Twitter, it makes this info very easy to share via social media.
    I can see no reason (nor apparently can the UK Supreme Court) why a Court should not release information via Twitter when so many people, including reporters, use it to share and learn.