In the past decade, the practice of law has undergone a huge shift. The increasing prevalence of social media undoubtedly contributed to this change. Though some people assume social media is merely a way to connect with others, it has indeed altered the way society functions. Social media impacts law in multiple ways.
One of the most basic ways social media changes the practice of law is through its use as evidence. The random things people say, their exact location at specific times, and their interactions with others are often recorded and preserved through social media. Lawyers now try to encourage clients to stay off social media before upcoming trials and lawsuits because interactions on social media have profoundly affected the outcome at court.
A big challenge for lawyers is social media’s ability to distort or alter the truth. With the ability of anyone to post anything they like on the internet, it can be hard to tell what is fact and what is fiction. As seen in the 2016 election, posting the misinformation and it going viral can lead to vast swaths of the population with misinformed beliefs. This can result in a lot of problems at trials because the jury and other members of the court are often exposed to false information.
Jurors are meant to be impartial and carefully weigh evidence, but with social media, it is more and more challenging to avoid being swayed by public opinion. The instant a crime is committed, people start debating the presumed guilt and innocence of the alleged perpetrators. In high profile cases, it can be almost impossible to find jurors who have not heard all sorts of true and false information through things like YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds.
Trying to combat these issues is a concern for lawyers. Part of their fight relies on using the courtroom to distinguish between truth and lies clearly. It is their job to try and clearly present facts without allowing social media to distort opinions and inflame emotions. Lawyers also have a growing need to take social media into account when preparing their cases. The right evidence pulled from a person’s social media account can drastically alter the outcome of a case. As social media becomes ever more present through computers, phones, and even smartwatches, lawyers can expect to deal with it more often.