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Corporate communications + Public Relations Adelaide

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October 2012

Juries and social media: a case for a different perspective

You may have heard.

In Australia, our Attorneys General are discussing ‘national guidelines for social media use’. Here’s a rundown of recent coverage:

The potential impact of social media on criminal trials is being discussed by state and territory Attorneys-General in Brisbane.

States to tackle social media laws after alarm over fair trial for accused

Setting aside the issue of why it’s taken law makers so long to look at this (social media has been around for years: hello!) I think our governments are looking at this issue the wrong way.

There’s a big assumption that social can be controlled. That we can stop people from having conversations online, that we can quickly remove content, that we can control what is being spread. “If only” global behemoths like Facebook and Twitter would cooperate with the Australian Government,  all of that content could go away and we could have nice, clean trials with juries who haven’t been influenced by what they might have come across online. If only people we could shut down blogs that discuss current cases, remove comment threads from online forums .. yadda yadda yadda.

That’s nonsense and fighting against the tide.

We can’t keep a lid on what people discuss on the internet, any more than we can stop people:

  • Emailing others about court cases
  • Telephoning each other about court cases
  • Accessing national or international news stories online which may be ‘banned’ in their state

How on earth would any ‘control’ of social media be carried out? Who is going to keep up with the flood of online content shared every minute of every day? Who’s going to decide on the search terms, set up the monitoring, sift through the monitoring, take steps to contact the perpetrators – and take steps to remove the content? An intern in the Attorney General’s office? A new crack team at Facebook? What about the entire blogosphere? Who is the blog watchdog?

The pace of social media is one of the main issues we face. It can take time for content to be found and dealt with – and by then, any ‘damage’ that was going to be done, has been done. And as outlined in this great blog by Natalie Hickey, “Technology-specific regulations will be superseded as new technologies proliferate”.  Any plan for ‘control’ that the Attorneys-General come up with, simply won’t cope.

We know that if Facebook takes down a page, a new one can be quickly established. We know that people can have their own ‘private’ discussions online that the government’s tentacles aren’t reaching.

So let’s take this as given: people will talk about court cases. And they may share inaccurate and inflammatory material. And we can’t stop it. As a recent piece in Crikey stated, we may have to “learn to live with the fact that juries cannot be quarantined from social commentary”.

The issues then become:

  • how courts and juries deal with and adapt to this reality
  • how we can educate communities about the possible ramifications and perhaps discourage at least a percentage of social media users from taking part (and indeed I have seen members of the public warn others about possibly affecting court cases with their posts).

Don’t juries already come to the court room with preconceptions and prejudices? And don’t we already provide them with instructions on how  to deal with their duties?

Social media in the courtroom
Social media in the courtroom

In NSW, jurors are given a prep kit which tells them:

“Laws have been passed which make it illegal for a juror to carry out his or her own investigations during a trial.  This means that you must not, during the course of the trial, use any material or research tool, such as the Internet, to access legal databases, earlier decisions of this or other courts, and/or other material of any kind which relates to any matter arising in the trial.”

WA’s juror guidelines touch on internet use: “While you are on jury duty you must not access the internet to research any aspect of jury service or the matters that you may be involved in if empanelled as a juror … Also do not update Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking services with your involvement and location of the court you are attending. The purpose for these restrictions is to protect you as a potential juror and to protect the integrity of the judicial process.”

Perhaps these guidelines, and those in other states, could be expanded to give jurors guidance on how to treat any information they may have come across prior to the trial. If the NSW guidelines can provide guidance on note taking (“Take your time, review your notes and remember it is all right to change your mind when there is good reason for doing so. At the same time, try not to be overly influenced by other people’s ideas and recollections. Even if someone has taken notes, this does not necessarily mean that his or her notes are more accurate than what you remember of the evidence”) surely some can be developed relating to social media?

Again, from Crikey: “Most commentators now agree that enforcing contempt laws in cyber space is nearly impossible and that the courts need to accept that juries are increasingly capable of assessing the facts in complex cases, despite the influence of negative commentary.” Ie, we have to trust our jurors’ capabilities.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

[Note, this blog focuses on criminal proceedings that are discussed in social media forums. It’s not a blog about defamation, copyright infringement and other legal issues that can be pursued as a result of social media postings. I actually think those laws are a little more clear cut – it’s the criminal trials being discussed in social media that I’m interested in today].

Socia media: It’s all in the approach

Why do you use social media?

What do you want to gain from your social media platform? What’s the ROI?

What's your approach to social media?
What’s your approach to social media?

What can Facebook or Twitter or GooglePlus do to raise your profile? How can you use Instagram or Pinterest or Tumblr to get people to notice your brand and increase sales?

These are some of the questions I often hear revolving around the social media space. And  I’ve often discussed these with clients.

But what if they’re the wrong questions? 

We often approach social media wearing our marketing, promotions or sales hats. But it’s wise for brands and organisations to remind themselves of the role that social media plays in people’s lives.

We know  that people:

  • are spending increasing amounts of time on social media while traditional media consumption (as in newspaper circulation and free-to-air television viewing) is diminishing in the face of massive competition and choice
  • can easily take to social media to support causes, encourage activism, complain about brands and customer experiences and demand change
  • can be newsbreakers, first on the scene to broadcast observations or photographs

Anyone with a social media account can be a ‘citizen journalist’, thought leader and influencer. It’s incredibly exciting and unpredictable and inspiring. And that’s why social media is so compelling and of interest to brands and organisations.

Social media platforms represent an unprecedented opportunity for organisations to listen to the community. Social media is rich with public opinion, conversation, feedback, ideas and inspiration.

Make sure that you’re not always approaching social media with your Promotions Hat on. When you’re trying to ‘make a case for using social media’, listening is a good way to start. It’s simply good business if you:

  • listen to what your stakeholders / customers / community is saying
  • listen to what’s happening in your industry
  • listen to what your competitors are saying

Of course, we know that not all of your stakeholders are on social media. Maybe a lot of the conversation  is locked away in spaces you can’t access. But themes and issues relevant to you will rise on mainstream networks from time to time.

If you’re not even aware of how to use social media, if you don’t have your own accounts to enable you to listen, your own access and gateways … then you’ll be a long way behind.

A snapshot of Alan Jones social media pages

Interested in what’s happening with social media pages set up in the wake of Alan Jones comments about the Prime Minister’s father? Here’s a rundown of some of the latest online activity from the most popular communities.

The Sack Alan Jones Facebook page has a clear focus on encouraging people to sign its petition (“Its time to sack Alan Jones: sign the petition at http://www.change.org/alanjones”). Its Facebook fan number more than 20,500 at the time of writing.

Sack Alan Jones Facebook Page
Sack Alan Jones Facebook Page

From its page description:

“Alan Jones has been known to have a bad day – say things he shouldn’t, and usually gets away with it. On September 30, the papers will print a story showing Alan Jones most recent claim that Julia Gillard’s father died of shame. John Gillard, a psychiatric nurse, passed away after a period of protracted illness in early September. Alan Jones’ comments, as reprehensible as they are, are an affront to the memory of a strong and dedicated man, and should be nothing short of condemned. His comments are a blatant attempt to discredit the image of Ms Gillard, in the lowest form possible. No one can justify cheap political points by attacking the memory of anyone’s loved ones.

“To this end, Alan Jones must resign from his public media duties, and failing that, Australian radio station 2GB should terminate his contract. There is simply no justification, no public apology great enough to undo the damage this man has, and continues to cause with his poorly chosen words.”

The page has set out to demonstrate that it’s not faceless cyberbullies who are behind this campaign. Over the past week it’s asked fans to share their ‘enough is enough’ images and has collected supporter photos for its Facebook cover image.

The page shares guidelines for the actions it’d like supporters to take, for example:

“Many large brands have dumped Alan Jones’ show in the wake of your response, but could easily come back in the next few months. Can you help ensure Harvey Norman, Katmandu and McDonalds follow Mercedes’ lead in publicly committing to never return, or not return for at least 2013? Please thank them for ceasing advertising, then ask them to make that longer term commitment.”

A quick check of advertiser Facebook pages reveals that people are indeed leaving comments. See the McDonalds example below:

Comments on McDonald's Australia Facebook Page
Comments on McDonald’s Australia Facebook Page

People are sharing similar messages on the Hyundai Facebook page:

Hyundai Australia Facebook page
Hyundai Australia Facebook page

Meanwhile, Destroy the Joint https://www.facebook.com/DestroyTheJoint has a Facebook community of 18,155. It’s asking people to ‘take the pledge’ as follows:

It starts with me.

I want an Australia where girls and women, where men and boys, can take part in our society without enduring discrimination, sexism and violence.

I want an Australia where we respect each other; an Australia where no person experiences hate because of their gender, race, religion or sexuality.

And I will challenge anyone who uses sex, race, religion or sexual orientation to incite hatred or to demean or vilify any of us. I will not stand by and let others do so without speaking up.

It Stops With Me.

From its Facebook bio: “Destroy The Joint stands for gender equality and civil discourse in Australia. The name “Destroy The Joint” came from the on-air comments of 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones, who stated in an on-air discussion on Friday August 31, 2012, that “women are destroying the joint”. This misogynistic comment was transformed into a witty Twitter hashtag that trended for four days. The term “destroy the joint” or “destroying the joint” has entered the Australian lexicon. It rejects the suggestion that women are destroying the joint and represents a call to action for Australians who reject sexism and seek a civil and decent society. We’re not out to destroy the joint – that was someone else’s description. We’re rebuilding it with good humour and optimism.”

The Destroy the Joint Twitter account has 2089 as of 10am this morning and the #destroythejoint hashtag is still going strong (as is discussion via #alanjones).

The Destroy the Joint and Sack Alan Jones Facebook pages support each other.

But it’s certainly not all one-sided. Some comments left on the Mercedes Facebook Page for example are against that advertiser withdrawing from Alan Jones’s 2GB show.

On Jones’s Wikipedia page there is a new section outlining the ‘died of shame’ controversy. (Looking at the editing history of the page, I must say I’m surprised there hasn’t been more action taking place there. Indicative of how tricky Wikipedia can be to access and edit?)

Have you participated in this campaign? What do you think of the way the organisers of these pages have used social media?

It’s not bullying, Alan: it’s a call to account

I wasn’t going to write about the Alan Jones saga but the story resonates with so much of what I’ve written here recently that I can’t ignore it.

In this post last month “Facebook – complaint or corporate social responsibility cue?”  I shared a reminder that listening to social media is a “litmus for community expectations and a source of ideas for good corporate citizenship”.

When citizens take to social media to admonish Alan Jones for his recent comments about the Prime Minister, it is not cyber bullying. It’s the community demanding a higher standard of behaviour from one of the nation’s most well-known broadcasters. When citizens ask businesses to stop advertising on that radio station, again, they are seeking a higher standard of behaviour and demonstration of their values and ethics. [And while some enthusiasts may have engaged in bullying tactics when it came to asking advertisers to pull the plug, their behaviour was theirs to own, and focusing on them alone is a diversionary tactic. A lot of the anti Alan Jones campaign was measured, reasonable and valid].

This ‘online activism’ has been happening for years already and as long as social media continues to be a tool for people to 1) easily congregate and vent via a smartphone or keyboard and 2) make things happen, this use of social media won’t go away.

If you’re a corporation, be prepared.

Look at how you conduct your business, who your partners are, your impact on the environment,  how you treat your employees and so on.

Listen to what people are saying on social media: monitor the internet for key search terms related to your business, products, managers and competitors. Don’t ignore complaints that have been dogging your business for years. Get on the front foot and do the right thing.

But remember, too, that social media doesn’t cause activism.  It’s no use wanting to give Facebook a kick or wishing that people weren’t allowed to tweet anonymously. If there’s an underlying issue with a business practice or an individual’s behaviour, it exists regardless of whether social media is around.

Also, people have the ability to voice themselves online regardless of whether you’re using social media officially. There are countless examples of people establishing Facebook Pages or other online spaces to complain about a company. They don’t need your company to be present: they’ll do it on their own. So shying away from officially using social media won’t mean you’ll never be the subject of an online campaign.

Social media merely shines a light on what’s already rotten.

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