This week, Joanne Fraill, the juror accused of contempt of court based on a Facebook conversation, admitted to the charge. The case seemed pretty clear-cut even before the admission; Fraill wilfully initiated a conversation in spite of the judge’s explicit recommendation. This is the first case of its kind, and as such has provoked widespread debate, even to the point of questioning the judicial system as we know it.
People forget that “social networking” is not a new phenomenon. Facebook is a social networking tool; it facilitates social networking, it is not responsible for it, and the two are certainly not synonymous. The jury system has never been watertight. At least via Facebook all contact is at some level recorded, and is thus more off-putting than personal contact.
That said, social networking sites and applications have revolutionised the way social interaction takes place; Facebook in particular is going to be a problem for juries. How can I be so sure? Let me put it this way. Since I’ve been at university I’ve discovered several ties between myself and, for want of a better word, random people; a girl in my college who knows my cousin, for example, or a shared school friend. I’m sure this is something most people can relate to. But it illustrates the problem, I think: how confident can I, or any Facebook user, be of totally avoiding contact with a given person?
Many have commented that since you must be friends with someone to interact on Facebook, any contact must be deliberate, and in legal cases like this, contempt of court. But what about interaction via the mutual friend function? Or the uploaded content of that friend? Indirect communication is still an issue.
As modern people our social networks are wider than they’ve ever been. Whereas in the past a juror might have been expected to exclude the defendant from their social network, today this might prove a much more difficult task. The ultimate objective is to prevent the passage of information between jury and defendant, and this could prove even more difficult, since the passage of information is no longer limited in facility to the social network.
These are facts, but the essential thing to remember is this: Facebook is only a facilitator. There is nothing wrong with it in essence, the problem lies with the users. It, like other applications of its type, does not allow any new form of interaction, simply old ones on a different scale. Direct contact is still direct, still intentional, and still in contempt of court. It’s undeniable, as the juror herself has conceded.