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Social Media in the Courtroom: Can tweeting disrupt a trial?

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

Here’s the scene: You’re sitting in a crowd in your county courthouse and the witness on the stand has just divulged a shocking piece of testimony. The crowd gasps, the defendant yells, the judge bangs the gavel, and the reporters take out their smartphones and quickly report the breaking news to Twitter.

With all these disruptions in the courtroom, where do you think the journalists’ tweeting would rank?

A judge in Cook County, Ill., thinks it is extremely distracting, and set a rule barring reporters from tweeting in the courtroom during a high-profile murder trial.

“Tweeting takes away from the dignity of a courtroom,” the judge’s spokesman, Irv Miller, said to the Associated Press. “The judge doesn’t want the trial to turn into a circus.”

While judges are permitted to impose rules of order on their courtroom, there really isn’t anything in the Constitution that would not allow reporters to tweet during a trial – the First Amendment protects freedom of the press, and the Supreme Court has in the past said that “what transpires in the courtroom is public property.”

Even so, there’s the issue of disruption – a bunch of reporters scrambling for their phones might cause a scene (or exacerbate a scene already in progress), right? Not quite, say those in favor of reporting by tweeting. Eric Zorn, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, writes, “Reporters hunch over their smartphones and quietly jab at the keys with their thumbs. The public, then, can follow the ostensibly public proceedings in close to real time — a genuine value.”

Compare this to the old days, notes National Constitution Center blogger Lyle Denniston, when reporters would scratch notes loudly on pads of paper, or make a mad dash out to the courtroom lobby to phone an update to their editor.

But the disruption might not actually occur inside courtroom, but out in the public. Because of Twitter’s limitations, reporters will be able to get their accounts out only in bursts of 140 characters. This could lead to some shortchanging of facts, taking incidents out of context and generally cutting corners to fit the breaking news in a tweet. From there, misinformation about the trial could disseminate very quickly to the public, possibly even compromising an ideal prized by the U.S. justice system, “innocent until proven guilty.”

What do you think?

Can tweeting by reporters disrupt a trial? Does a row of reporters reaching for their phones create a scene? Or is it important to keep the public informed about developments in a trial in real time? Could tweeting during a trial unfairly affect public perceptions of a court case? Join the discussion!
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Comments
9/20/2013
Sidney, Montana
Ashleigh McGhee
Brad Faulhaber
Tweeting and the use of cell phone in the courtroom is not necessary at all. I feel like its the same thing with using cell phones and school or in the lines at the grocery store, they will not serve you and teachers will take it away. If a reporter is tweeting about this case and his/her tweets are bias then it can sway the opinion of the public and change everything for the people in court. On twitter you can get just about anything trending, so if you were to get a negative thing about a court case or someone in the court case then would cause they public to think a certain way without even hearing the case or knowing all the facts about it. Tweeting or the use of cell phones should not be in courtrooms.

5/30/2012
Irving/Texas
Alyscia
Bradley/Nimitz
Tweeting is completely unnecessary in the courtroom. Just as there are no phone rules at school, there should be no phone rules in court. Pulling out a phone and being on it while a trial is in session is incredibly distracting. While it is important to keep the public informed, a journalist can wait until after the meeting, or during a break. There is no need to pull out a phone right then and there. If a tweet was speaking negatively about a case, when in actuality, that is just the opinion of the writer it could very much so change the public's opinion as well. Just as if it were optimistic, or any other sort of themed tweet. The public needs to decide for themselves, and tweeting in court, while informing, is ultimately just one big distraction.

5/29/2012
Irving/TX
Carolina
Bradley/Nimitz
Same sex marriage should be an issue in the presidential race because the president should protect the constitution law that everyone has a right regardless the color, sex, etc. Gay marriage should be looked after the US government the states might be more religion and conservative in that way while the US government is more neutral. By trying to protect everyones rights we can accomplish how the US was built each individual has the same rights.

5/29/2012
Irving/TX
Jordan
Bradley/Nimitz
Twitter is a social network that has been increasing in popularity over the last few years. It is now easier to get news and updates by using Twitter.When people hear shocking news by nature they want to spread the word.What goes on in the court room is totally public property and since it is people have the right to share the information how they would like to. Taking out a cell phone is just as distracting as taking out a pen or paper.

5/29/2012
Irving/Texas
Lauren
Bradley/Nimitz
I'm sure tweeting isn't the most sophisticated way to report the news, but it also isn't the most disruptive. I suppose in a significantly important trial, it might be a bit annoying to say the most, but tweeting could be considered less distracting than reporters whispering into their phones or “scratch[ing] notes loudly on pads of paper.” I don't know how important it is to keep the public informed in “real time” (couldn't people just wait for the final, complete story?) but, nevertheless, that is the trend of reporting today and I don't think the “incomplete story” argument really stands, considering there has been incomplete and warped news since people were spreading information orally.

5/29/2012
Irving/Texas
Yasmin
Bradley/Nimitz
I don't think that tweeting in the courtroom should be banned. It may be distracting to some people but it is less distracting than a man running out of the courtroom. Tweeting is a new form of social media that is still very new and everybody is overreacting saying that it would be a big distraction. Tweeting may also not be the most reliable source since you can only utilize 140 characters, but unreliable resources have existed for a very long time. Tweeting things from the courtroom could be false but could also be true, it's just like any other journalists. Tweeting is also usually done on smartphones, so if someone took out their phone, technically you would never know if it was just a random text, playing games or any other thing you can do on a smartphone. Tweeting would not affect the perception of people in the court case.

5/29/2012
Irving/Texas
Melissa
Bradley/Nimitz
Tweeting is something that should be left at home or when you're out on the town doing your own thing. I really don't think that people should tweet during a trial. Why are people so worried about tweeting during a trial anyway? There are more important issues and people are worried about tweeting? I just find that ridiculous. I think the focus should be on the trial and what is going on instead of twitter. Social networking sites have become such a problem in everyday life with everyone constantly checking their facebook, tweeting what they're doing, and other things and it should not be that way. Twitter should not have such a big influence in someone's life and I feel that that's what's happen with people tweeting during trials. Even if tweeting doesn't cause an actual "distraction" it still distracts the jurors by having them not pay attention to what is really going on. If people many years ago could go to a trial without tweeting, I am 100 percent sure that we can too.

5/28/2012
Irving/Tx
Lucy
Bradley / Nimitz
Personally, if I was a judge,and here and there a reporter were to tweet or update their sources with the newly information, I wouldn't really mind or find it disruptive unless the defendant or anyone a part of the actual case feels uncomfortable with them doing so. If a whole row or group of reporters were to reach for their phones at the same time, that would easily cause a scene and murmurs of disapproval will definitely rise...that's like texting constantly in front of your parents while eating. The death stare WILL be given. Depending on who's and what kind of trial would it determine if the reporter should or should not inform the public about what was going on during the trial. Tweeting during a trial would be considered an unfair affect on the public's perception of the case because with only 140 characters, facts can easily be shortened and changed up to meet the limit and things later on will get out of hand as to who was truly right or not like the source said in the case.

5/15/2012
Irving TX
Elizabeth R
Bradley/ Nimitz
Tweeting cannot disrupt a trial. Phones are not even loud when typing on them. Although I do believing that some reporters might tweet more about the side they are on. Or make someone seem guiltier than the other. I do believe that it is important to keep the public informed about the trial. That one a person can make their own opinion on the trial. Reporters reaching for their phones to tweet should not be made into a big deal. People are going to be reaching for their phone weather it is for tweeting, texting, or anything else possible on their phone.

5/11/2012
Irving/Texas
Taylor G.
Bradley/Nimitz
I think that tweeting in the courtroom is a disruption in any court case. The press is already disruptive as it is and tweeting should be taken as a changing factor in a private case. I think that the court has let the media have enough disruption that tweeting should be banned in courtrooms. I also think that tweeting could affect public perception of the court case ebcause tweeting only allows 140 characters.

5/10/2012
porterville,ca
salinna hernanadez
monache/ mr. smith
I think that they are right. Being on twitter can disrupt a trial. Such as what if them spreading it all over the world can harm the trial. Also they may make all the evidence they worked for by ruining it with twitter. THough it is very rude to do a thing like that. If the reporters tweet then that gives the right for everyone to tweet. Thus making the trial and case all layed out.

5/9/2012
Irving, Tx
Areli M
Bradley/ Nimitz
The way that I see this, if the trial can be featured live on TV, why should tweeting be ruled out? Isn't it more distracting when there are cameras hovering around recording everything that's goin's on? Tweeting should not disrupt a trial since people are quietly tapping on their phones and reaching to get their phone is not near the distraction rate. If people are more concerned about the trial, they wouldn't even notice the reporters reaching for their phones. No, tweeting during a trial does not affect public perceptions of a court case. That's like saying that doodling during a court case means that no one is taking anything seriously. It just doesn't work that way.

5/9/2012
Irving, TX
Jocelyn P
Bradley/Nimitz
A courtroom is supposed to be a place of privacy. Where a trial can take place and the person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Twitter is a social network. Used to update society on the where and what about's of a certain person or situation. Yes we are more technologically advanced and there are touch screen phones that make no noise at all, so maybe tweeting during a case might not be such a distraction rather to the old days with someone dashing out and slamming a door behind them, but is it right? I would be more distracted and disturbed by reading a tweet someone posted during a case. Shouldn't a reporter want to give a full report rather than to cut out information to try and fit it all in a merely 140 character sentence? If a case is of importance, wait. Have enough decency to keep the private in privacy until after the trial. And even though a reporters job is to inform the public, I as the audience would much rather wait a couple of hours or even a day or two to get the full story rather than have my perception about the case be affected.

5/9/2012
Irving/ Texas
Randie
Bradley/ Nimitz
I think that tweeting by reporters does NOT disrupt the courtroom. And them reaching to grab their phones isn't adding to any of the chaos that isn't already going on in the courtroom. I feel like this is keeping the public informed on what is going on in the courtroom. However, I do agree that some things may be taking out of context while tweeting, because you can only type 140 characters. Yes, tweeting could probably be bias based on the reporter.

5/8/2012
Irving, Texas
Fatima S
Bradley/Nimitz
Tweeting by reporters could disrupt a trial, but people attending to the case shouldn't be allowed on Twitter anyway, so I don't think it should have a big effect on it. Tweeting an update should be frowned upon, yet times are changing and a tweet is fast and efficient at informing everyone in the court room about things. Touchscreen phones have a touch screen keyboard, and what better way to update others on a trial than by posting a quick tweet on how it is going. Of course the details of the case shouldn't be tweeted because that could be dangerous for the trial, but maybe a short sentence or small detail can keep followers up to date. A small short sentence or small detail is basically what twitter has to offer. On Twitter you can't write paragraphs upon paragraphs about something. Whatever is typed must be short and efficient, and of course get the point across. I can see why tweeting would be disallowed during the trial, but as long as the tweet stays short and innocent in content then I see no problem with allowing these updates.

5/8/2012
Irving/Texas
Michael Ugwulebo
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that tweeting by reporters disrupt a trial“Tweeting takes away from the dignity of a courtroom,” the judge’s spokesman, Irv Miller, said to the Associated Press. “The judge doesn’t want the trial to turn into a circus.”you should not even be making a chirping noise or be on a posting on the Twitter social networking site. You should concentrate on why you are there.  In my opinion I would say that it is important to keep the public informed about developments in a trial in real time. So that the can be aware of what is going on.. I think tweeting or texting or any other social media should not be allowed in the court room .Example: you might be on a social network site, when a serious case is going on. Let's say your on your phone, and you forgot to put your it in silence or turn it off. When someone call's you, it would make noise and you would be disrupting a trial,because everyone would turn and be looking at you..

5/6/2012
Irving/TX
Carly T
Bradley/Nimitz
It is extremely sad that we live in a country so focused on instant gratification that tweeting during a trial can actually cause a debate. Why is there such an outcry for step by step Twitter version of what's taking place in the courtroom? A misrepresentation of facts to the public can prove disastrous when the judge comes down with a ruling and the people believe they know of a better solution based on their false idea of the case. A stream of one-line updates coming from the courtroom could end up jeopardizing the judge's authority and the truth of the case. Also, Tweets are for celebrities, teenagers, and sports updates. If we as Americans are trying to hold up the US courtrooms as respected places of justice and truth, we should keep them from becoming a made-for-Twitter drama. The disruption aspect of tweeting in a courtroom couldn't hold up, considering the role of reporters in the past, but there are certainly other reasons for keeping the courtroom from being a place for social networking.

5/6/2012
Porterville CA
Anthony
Smith/Monache
I personally do not believe Tweeting in the court room is a distraction. When you are in a court room full of people making noises is hard to get away from and is very distracting. Most people Tweet about every aspect of their life and do it very discreetly. So i do not believe that Tweeting or any form of updating a status is distracting to anyone.

5/4/2012
Irving, TX
Lilly
Bradley/Nimitz
Visually, seeing a whole row of reporters whip out their smartphones to tweet updates is only a minor distraction and even then ONLY if you're focused on them. To me, tweeting is the least disruptive of distractions when compared to all the yelling and gasping that could go on. If you're not looking, tweeting isn't distracting, but even if you're looking away shuffling, yelling, and gasping can't be ignored. You just can't turn off your ears whenever it's convenient. Almost all (good) smartphones have a touchscreen keyboard too. With that, no one would even have to endure the incessant tapping noise when tweeting. In any given professional setting though, using a smartphone to update statuses on a social media site is frowned upon, but ways and means are changing rapidly, especially in the field of journalism. With the onset of the social media age, we should just accept the fact that tweeting is a new method of keeping the public informed and unfortunately at times misinformed about the developments of a trial. “Real time” developments aren't necessary for most cases because they're boring- there's no urgency or intense public scrutiny. For controversial cases like Casey Anthony's trial or George Zimmerman's trial, however, real time developments would be in high demand and only expected. Obviously real time developments has its drawbacks though. Like any other media source, hasty newlines that don't have all the information could unfairly affect the public's perceptions of a particular court case, but that's why it's on the people discredit those reports that misinform their readers and find reports only with integrity to follow.

5/3/2012
Irving/TX
Shynecia
Bradley/Nimitz
I don't think tweeting will disrupt the trial going on. I feel as if they ban tweeting, they should ban the paprazzis! Paprazzis are allowed in some cases, but I think that is more distracting than tweeting. With the cameras flashing, people shoving recorders in the defendent, and bombarding then with questions, it is a safer method to be on a phone tweeting.

5/3/2012
Benson
Chace
Mr. Sorensen
That is just ridiculous. They should not be so dependent on such machines, nor should they be displaying so publicly the private proceedings of a trial. That could potentially cause problems. It is unneccisary and should be prohibited.

5/3/2012
Irving/Texas
Mayra
Bradley/Nimitz
I do not mind twitter, but there should be boundaries, and a big trial like a murder case has to be sought through to the end, and not start rumors with little details that can cause chaos. Maybe after when there has been a sentence then they can tweet away before it gets out of court, but before can make things worse.

5/3/2012
Irving, Tx
Jocelyn E.
Bradley/Nimitz
Not everything that happens in a courtroom should end up on a social networking site. I understand times have changed and the old-fashioned pen and paper is out, but it would be easy to misinterpret the information provided since it is not yet edited and all the facts aren't out yet. It's true that you could follow up in real time, but I would rather know the whole story instead of bits and pieces. And it would also affect the perceptions of the followers because everyone has their own bias and the readers could be easily persuaded by what they are reading instead of knowing the whole truth of the case. I honestly think it is a distraction. You are there to report for your job, not take out your phone and tweet. Yes, it has to do with your job, but it is not your job.

5/3/2012
Irving/Tx
Marvin
Bradley/Nimitz High School
Tweeting in a courtroom is something I would've never thought of doing. Not because I lack creativity or because I don't improvise well enough to execute it, but because it's the courtroom!!! In the courtroom you are expected to obey the rules and show manners. Pulling out your phone to tweet during a courtroom is like...like...the Kool-aid man from family guy busting into people's houses during the most awkwardest moments! It's just not right. Show some respects, and put the phone away. The tweet can wait.

5/2/2012
Irving/Texas
Ashley
Bradley/ Nimitz
It's true that tweeting has become a main source of communication, and it isn't any more disruptive than the reporters in the old days who would “scratch notes loudly on pieces of paper, or make a mad dash out of the courtroom to update their editor”. Times have changed, technology has advanced, and it's good that we're trying to keep up with the constant improvement. This improvement does make it easier to keep people informed, but I do believe there should be a limit to what is deemed “tweet-able”. Not everything that goes on in a courtroom is your twitter “followers” business. Nowadays gossip is spread like wildfire because of one persons tweet on twitter or one person's post on Facebook, and I honestly don't feel the need to be informed about who's flirting with who or who's talking behind who's back. There is information that should be kept private until it's ready to be shown to the public. Like the Supreme Court has said in the past, “what transpires in the courtroom is public property.” Newspapers don't publish until their articles have been reviewed and edited multiple times, so why would they want news getting out that isn't revised and could possibly misinform people. Yes, news can get around quickly with these new advances, but it can also be harmful to anyone involved in the case and can cause a muddle of false information to get out. Being somewhere while something is happening and just being informed about the goings- on in the court room are completely different. I don't think that tweeting should be outlawed, but I do believe that reporters should be extra careful when tweeting information about a case. False information could cause an uproar for no reason, and that' s a risk that can be avoided by simply not having reporters find it necessary to keep people informed “close to real time”.

5/1/2012
irving/texas
amy
bradley/nimitz
Tweeting in a courtroom isn't any more disturbing than running outside or writing down notes on pads of papers. I don't think disruption shouldn't be the issue. I just think that what happens in the court room should be more private, people shouldn't have their information all over the internet just to feeds people's obsession with wanting to know everything as soon as it happens. Also many people go to these website for news but many times they're being given twisted or bias news so it does unfairly affect the public opinion of the court case.

5/1/2012
Irving, Texas
Kevin Sanchez
Bradley/Nimitz
Tweeting should not be banned in the courtroom. It is a way of keeping people informed and up to date on what they want to know. Especially if it is a decision that will directly impact them. As far as the disruption goes, it cannot be noisier than running out the door to call your editor. I think it is actually a better way to communicate to somewhere outside of the court room.

5/1/2012
Irving, TX
Allison
Bradley/Nimitz
Tweeting in the courtroom should not be universally outlawed. As this article says, in earlier times, reporters would be jotting down notes, running to the lobby, or being equally distracting in some other way; the press, using Twitter to report the goings-on in court, is just moving ahead with the times, and the judiciary should keep up with them. As for the argument that disseminating information using Twitter could lead to misinformation, I ask, when has this not been the case? How many times has a newspaper headline been misleading? And if the (possible) spread of misinformation does get out of hand, the press will regulate themselves, bending to the public opinion that reporters who do muddle news in tweets should no longer be reporting at all. Rather, I think that tweets will be “a genuine value,” as columnist Eric Zorn said, and provide the public with useful, useable information.

5/1/2012
Irving/ Tx
Itzel
Bradley/Nimitz
In all reality, the fact that there is a debate over whether people should tweet during a trial is ridiculous! Twitter should not play this much of a drastic role in our society- but it does. I don't mind twitter, but there is certain boundaries that should not be passed. What ever goes on in the trial should stay in the trial. There is honestly no need for the whole world to find out every little issue instantly. In all honesty, I think it makes things worse. It provokes rumors and alters situations that should not be a big deal. Twitter makes them a big deal. I think they should not let tweets be tweeted during trials. It's a form of respect and privacy, there truly is no need for that. It's just not right.

4/30/2012
Irving/ TX
Cathy
Bradley/Nimitz
Many would say that tweeting by reporters can disrupt a trial. On the other hand, I feel as though a lot of factors can be considered “disruptive.” Tweeting is just another form of media that's fast and effective in trying to get some info out, even if it's false information. Technology has definitely evolved, and judges should just have to deal with how reporters report in the 21st century. Like stated earlier, reporters taking out a notepad and scribbling down notes can be just as disruptive. Tweeting is just another form of the obnoxious notepad. Once the tweeting fad is out of the game, reporters will come up with even more obnoxious devices to use. We should just start getting used to new technology, accept it, and encourage it. A row of reporters reaching for their phones might create a scene, but as viewers and readers, we want them too. We want reporters, judges, and defendants to make a scene. It's part of being human to want to see chaos, entertainment, and drama that isn't our own. We want to feel like we are a part of a serious trial like from the movies. I'm sure we'd egg it on. Who wants to stay in a lifeless courtroom that has no energy? We want some distractions and things that will keep our mind in check. I'm sure even the judges need some excitement even if they don't admit it. It's very important to keep the public informed about developments in a trial in real time. That's the whole reason why reporters tweet. It's just how technology is set up now a days. They don't tweet to purposely be annoying, they want to give us what we want to hear. Yes, because tweeting is so quick and characters are limited, false information might be put out to viewers/readers. Therefore, as readers and viewers, we have to be smart on what kind of source we get our information from. We can't blame everything on someone else. We have to step back and reevaluate ourselves before we blame others.

4/30/2012
Benson, AZ
Tori Moncada
Sorenson/ Benson High School
I can totally understand if its a journalist but the thing is twitter can only allow 140 characters so some information will be left which that isnt good because then people only hear half of the story!

4/30/2012
benson/ az
Ryan
Sorenson/ benson high school
tweeting is a fast way to get information out to the public. today almost everyone is on tweeter so i believe it is a faster way to get people informed about late breaking news.

4/30/2012
Irving,TX
Richard
Bradley/Nimitz
It can be understood why reporters or journalist might tweet during a trial. Tweeting is a fast and easy way to get what could be considered important information out to the public. The main problem that people might be concerned about are the limitations of Twitter. As the article mentions, Twitter allows 140 characters. This means some information will be left out. Because of this, Twitter followers might get the wrong interpretation of a trial. Reporters will create a scene when they reach for their phones, but all that can be avoided if they have them already in their hands before the trial even starts. Another problem that people might be concerned about is of what is being tweeted. There might be information that the judge or those involved in the trial don't want to be put out into public. Reporters and journalist should be warned about what can and cannot be tweeted.

4/30/2012
Irving/Texas
Nicole
Bradley/ Nimitz
Honestly, it isn't even the people's business to get the “inside scoop” on a trial that has nothing to do with them. If they aren't important enough to the trial to be at the trial in person then how important do they need to be to get “the latest and greatest” news. I don't think if a whole row of reports get out their phones it would cause a big scene because I don't think they would make it too obvious to the people that aren't right next to them. I feel that the information that the public wants to hear will make it's way to the news. If it is a big trial that causes the people to want to know that much about it then the information will get out there. I do agree that tweeting would distort some of the information. You only would get what is able to fit in the 140 characters, like the source says. I just think that tweeting during the tweeting during a big case is extremely unprofessional and shouldn't be done. To me that's almost the same as if the judge was playing Pandora radio or on Tumblr during the court case, it just shouldn't happen.

4/30/2012
Irving/ Tx
Adam
Bradley/ Nimitz
Tweeting should be deemed disruptive or not by the judge. I don't think that it would cause any disruptive if I was the judge but clearly it distracts some of them. I just don't think that someone looking down and typing something on twitter would be something that would even be taken notice of by a judge. I could understand if someones phone was ringing with alerts or if any noise was being made but just the act of typing should not cause any ruckus. If a few people reach for their phone at one time it may be noticeable but I don't see how it would severely alter the mood of the court room in any way. The public should be informed on what is going on anyways, I think tweeting or texting or any other social media should be allowed in the court room

4/30/2012
Porterville/CA
Mario
Smith/Monache
Tweeting during a court trial? What is this, high school? During a court case, one should be as professional as possible. Tweeting is not what I consider to be professional. In addition, it is distracting to others. Some may feel that this shows a lack of respect to the trial, which it does. Court is one thing that show get one's undivided attention; taking notes other that tweeting would be more professional and not as distracting would be better.

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