By Amy Singer, Ph.D., Diana Greninger and Kemberlee Bonnet
It is becoming widely apparent that on social networking sites, people are open to sharing unguarded thoughts, attitudes and sentiment about any given topic. It is almost as if social media were a focus group of its own, such that many industries refer to now as the world’s largest focus group. Although one could argue that social networking sites are “unfocused,” having no moderator individuals often carry on lengthy and quite personal discussions on specific topics with unusual transparency, often disclosing information that they would otherwise withhold in a face-to-face setting.
Although the level of social network transparency can be substantial, it can provide valuable data for trained trial consultant researchers and for litigators. Through social media research, a litigator can find out more about potential juror bias that might apply in voir dire and also in the selected jury in an ongoing trail. For example, by discovering a potential juror’s Facebook page, the attorney could become aware of varieties of potential bias by sorting through results from analysis of social media records containing the juror’s comments and discussions, and even revelations of the type of “friends” that the potential or selected juror associates with most and the type of organizations that he or she “likes.”
Knowing the biases within an individual potential juror is critical during voir dire, allowing the attorney to be aware of potential hurdles before jury de-selection. Unguarded thoughts and transparent sentiment expressed in social network sites are a gift to litigators but the discovery and analysis can be a daunting, lengthy and a very difficult process. The content of such information can contain pertinent points among a sea of irrelevant information. Using the services of trained scientific experts to examine attitudes, opinions, and sentiment is a highly effective and efficient means of extracting focused points of relative information. Trained trial consultants have finely tuned skills and methodologies by which to extract these points. The extracted relevant points can then be used strategically by the litigator in presenting and arguing the case during trial.
The scientific examination of jurors’ social network behavior allows the litigator to be armed with substantial knowledge that permits the exclusion or inclusion of potential jurors and the monitoring of juror conduct during trial in the face of having a trial-consultant informed with knowledge of the opinions and biases of selected jurors. Juror bias and juror behaviors can be far more systematically and empirically addressed through the analysis of unguarded social network behavior in voir dire. In addition, in order to prevent a social network-induced mistrial, it is critical that the litigator conduct pre-trial social network research and ongoing social network research and monitoring, analogous to an ongoing discovery. Scientific methodology specific to effective trial consultants can provide that level of control in the trial environment.