Has the jury system become a relic of pre-modern courts? Or has social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) replaced the jury system as a community of informed individuals weighing the scales of social justice and rendering important (though non-binding) “verdicts”?
In many regards, the modern “social media jury” is a lot more like the jury of 1400 AD than our modern jury. The jury of 1400 was a jury of the “viciniage,” or vicinity, meaning it was comprised of members of the community most closely associated with the matter in dispute and the parties involved in the case.
The jury of 1400 was not a passive recipient of carefully orchestrated and considered evidence presented through an excruciating adversarial process presided over by an impartial court. Rather, the juries of the viciniage were expected to bring their own knowledge of the incident to the court, share it, and then reach their conclusions after the litigants’ presentations in tandem with the jurors’ inherent knowledge. They were in essence both decision makers and private investigators. In this sense, the jury system was more a process of aggregating diffused knowledge for the purpose of reaching an informed decision. And that’s not unlike modern social media.
The downside, however, is that the old jury systems greatly limited the freedom of the litigants to argue their own case and introduced variables into adjudication that most would now consider intolerable, such as personal prejudice and hostility. Let’s say I was accused of a crime, under the old jury system all of my neighbors got to come forward and decide my fate. Some would be fair, but others may use the opportunity to “score settle” against me for something not at all related to the trial at hand. In this sense, the old jury, and the modern “social media jury” could only serve to amplify existing prejudices rather than make rational decisions.
User feedback: have you ever seen the experience of a social media “jury?” What was your experience?