Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Managing tweets from the courts

  • Print

In Manitoba, the courts have generally permitted reporters' live Twitter feeds to media web pages. Judges recognize getting the facts out quickly is a worthy exercise in the age of digital media.

Next month, Manitoba's courts will initiate a formal policy regarding courtroom use of electronic devices. Tweeting and blogging from all levels of Manitoba courts by official media and lawyers will be expressly permitted as of Sept. 1. The general public, however, must either turn off, or disable transmission from, smartphones and tablet computers in court.

Who can transmit what from the courtroom in the age of social media is a vexed issue. The new policy tries to strike a balance between the public's right to know and ensuring witnesses and parties in hearings and trials are treated fairly.

The policy doesn't completely foreclose members of the public from tweeting or blogging. Anyone can request permission from the judge to use an electronic device. Overall, the policy is commendably flexible. It also gives the judge the discretion to allow, or prohibit, use of an electronic device by anyone - media, lawyers or public - where he or she thinks it appropriate.

Twitter works well as a bulletin service. In the hands of accredited journalists, it provides play-by-play of courtroom events. However, tweets from members of the public often stray from unfiltered coverage of proceedings.

Particularly pernicious are tweets that comment on a witness's or accused's physical appearance or clothing. Equally prejudicial are tweets that veer into speculation about a witness's veracity, based on his or her demeanour on the stand. But most problematic of all are tweets that venture into opinion. Saying something apt and perceptive about a trial can rarely be done in Twitter's maximum 140-characters format. Saying something stupid or wrong, however, takes few words.

An inaccurate or unfair tweet can do a lot of damage. Once launched into cyberspace, it's out there for good. Corrections, or even counter-tweets, can be posted, but by then often the harm's been done and the message can be re-posted in blogs, Internet chat rooms and other social media.

Witnesses can view these prejudicial postings, and it can influence their testimony in court. Worse yet, jurors with smartphones or tablet computers are liable to access inadmissible evidence or irrelevant reports. Cases are supposed to be decided on the basis of evidence heard within the four walls of the courtroom, not missives from cyberspace.

The new guidelines are a welcome attempt to maintain open courts and accommodate digital technology, but also preserve the right to a fair and impartial trial.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2013 A8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Fringe, space motifs trendy for teens heading back to school

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Goslings enjoy Fridays warm weather to soak up some sun and gobble some grass on Heckla Ave in Winnipeg Friday afternoon- See Bryksa’s 30 DAY goose challenge - May 18, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Goose sits in high grass near Marion Friday afternoon for cover -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 18 - May 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of the new Blue Bombers uniforms?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google