Social Media and the Courts

Resource Guide

Social media, or any media that uses the internet to disseminate information through social interaction, is becoming increasing prevalent within the court system. Social media presents many opportunities to the courts as a new way to connect to the public and collaborate with stakeholders, but some concerns regarding the implications of jurors, judges, and court employees using social media, court security issues, as well as policies governing court social media sites create the need for these issues to be considered and addressed.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.

Featured Links

2013 CCPIO New Media and the Courts Report. (2013).

This survey report gives the judicial community in the United States its first year-to-year comparison spanning four years of data unraveling how social media and broader changes in the media industry are impacting state and local judges and courts.

Connected E-Newsletter.

The National Center for State Courts partners with the Conference of Court Public Information Officers in this new e-newsletter to follow the impact of new media on the courts.

AOCs and High Courts Using New Media.

These tables show the state Administrative Offices of the Courts and High Courts that are using new media:

  • As of April 24, 2013

  • As of May 11, 2012

  • As of December 20, 2011

  • As of April 22, 2010

  • Graves, Scott and Click, Laura. Best Practices for State Supreme Court Websites. (2012).

    This NCSC report offers guidelines and real-world examples to improve the utility of state high court websites for the public and members of the media.

    Courts Using Social Media

    Seguin, Patricia. The Use of Social Media in the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County. (May 2011). Institute for Court Management, Court Executive Development Papers.

    This research project analyzes a number of aspects surrounding the phenomenon of social media and the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County. It contains several recommendations to improve and accentuate the benefits of the court's social media efforts.

    Bladow, Katherine and Joyce Raby. Using Social Media to Support Self Represented Litigants and Increase Access to Justice. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. In their 2010 report “New Media and the Courts,” the Conference of the Court Public Information Officers documented social media’s impact on the public’s trust and confidence in courts. In this article, we expand on their work, looking at how courts are using social media to increase access to justice and listing steps courts can follow to implement a social-media initiative.
    Click, Laura. From Sketch Pads to Smart Phones: How Social Media Has Changed Coverage of the Judiciary. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. The advent of social media has transformed the way journalists report the news. Courts must educate themselves about the seismic shift in the media landscape to have a better understanding of how these changes will impact the courts.
    Davey, Chris. The New Media Project of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers. (2010). Future Trends in State Courts. New Media such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are transforming the way people get information and understand the world. The Conference of Court Public Information Officers is studying this phenomenon as to its impact on court proceedings, judicial and employee ethics, and our obligation to advance public understanding of the judicial system.
    New Media and the Courts: The Current Status and a Look at the Future. (2010).

    Report of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers's New Media Project.

    2011 Report of the New Media Committee of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers. (2011).

    A Report of the New Media Committee of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers.

    Hodson (Ret.), Hon. Tom. The Changing Media and Its Impact on the Courts. (2010). Future Trends in State Courts. Improved communications technology and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are changing the face of journalism. Courts must rise to the challenges presented by these changes and the new breed of “citizen journalists.”
    Olson, Travis and Christine O'Clock. The Role of Social-Networking Tools and Its Impact on the Courts. (2010). Future Trends in State Courts. Online social-networking tools, such as blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, are becoming increasingly popular methods of expressing ideas and sharing information. Judicial administrators need to familiarize themselves with these technologies to avoid their pitfalls and to realize their benefits.
    Press Release: Judiciary Uses Social Media to Keep Court Users Informed. (August 2009). New Jersey Judiciary The press release from the New Jersey Judicial Branch explains how the Judiciary is "taking advantage of the latest media developments to keep the public informed of the latest court developments.  Now, lawyers, litigants, law enforcement, state agencies, reporters and others can obtain up-to-the-minute court news and information on their cell phones as well as online."  The Judicial Branch is utilizing SMS, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

    Social Media and Juries

    Wallace, Anne. Juries and Social Media.

    (2013). This Australian report contains a literature review of existing research and studies that discuss the use of social media by empanelled jurors and the problems associated with said use. It also reviews policies and procedures implemented in other countries to address this problem and it contains specific recommendations to changes in current practices.

    Bell, Terry. Online Gadgetry During Trials Cause Problems. (January 2010). Wisconsin Public Radio Professor David Schultz, chief staff member of the Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instructions Committee, was interviewed by Wisconsin Public Radio about the new jury instructions addressing social media.  (Note: You will need Real Player to listen to this story.)
    Raysman, Richard, and Peter Brown. How Blogging Affects Legal Proceedings. (May 2009). New York Law Journal This article discusses issues that arise when jurors use social media. 
    Gordon, Robert. Facebook, Twitter Causing Judges to Amend Jury Instructions. (October 2009). Birmingham News Although people routinely posting updates about their day on Facebook and Twitter can keep their friends and family in the loop, it also can cause problems for the justice system. In several cases so far this year, the issue of jurors using social networking sites has been raised.
    Strutin, Ken. Jury Deliberations in the Digital Age. (May 2009). New York Law Journal The author reviews recent cases that have been impacted by the online behavior of jurors.
    Social Media Crashes the Courtroom. (September 2009). National Public Radio In this Talk of the Nation segment, Judge Gary Randall of the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska and attorney Michael Downey discuss social media in courtrooms.
    Hannaford-Agor, Paula L. Jury News: Google Mistrials, Twittering Jurors, Juror Blogs and Other Technological Hazards. (Summer 2009). This article describes the problems associated with jurors using technology in ways that violate the orders of the court and potentially cause mistrials or reversals of jury verdicts.  The article also discusses potential solutions which include a model instruction.
    Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Training and Technical Assistance Center Webinar: Social Media and Trial by Jury. (2011).

    This webinar addressed problems of juror use of social media and presented practical solutions.  A distinguished panel including the Honorable Gregory E. Mize, the Honorable Dennis M. Sweeney and Professor Caren Myers Morrison discussed issues and responded to participant questions.  This webinar and its slides were archived and available at the above link.

    Implications of Judges and Attorneys Using Social Media

    Ohio Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2010-7. Supreme Court of Ohio. (December 2010).

    This opinion answers the question, "May a judge be a “friend” on a social networking site with a lawyer who appears as counsel in a case before the judge?"  Ohio's Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline finds that a judge may be a “friend” on a social networking site with a lawyer who appears as counsel in a case before the judge, but cautions, “As with any other action a judge takes, a judge’s participation on a social networking site must be done carefully in order to comply with the ethical rules in the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

    Sankovitz, Judge Richard J. Can`t we be Friends: Judges and Social Networking. (Winter 2010). Wisconsin Court System, The Third Branch According to Judge Richard J. Sankovitz, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, "at least a couple dozen appellate, circuit and municipal judges in Wisconsin can be found, for instance, on Facebook."  Judge Sankovitz explains the various reasons judges use social networking, but also discusses some of the commonly cited ethical issues that can arise when judges use social networking.
    Meiring, Adrienne. Ethical Considerations of Using Social Networking Sites. (February 2010). Indiana Court Times, Vol 18, No. 6 This article explores the issues that arise when judges use social networking sites.
    Kentucky Judicial Ethics Opinion JE-119, Judges` Membership on Internet-Based Social Networking Sites. (January 2010). Ethics Committee of the Kentucky Judiciary This ethics opinion addresses the question, “May a Kentucky Judge or Justice, consistent with the Code of Judicial Conduct, participate in an internet-based social networking site, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, or Twitter, and be “friends” with various persons who appear before the judge in court, such as attorneys, social workers, and/or law enforcement officials?"  The Ethics Committee concluded that the current answer is a "qualified yes."  See the full opinion for details.
    Slaughter, Judge Gena and John G. Browning. Social Media Dos and Don`ts for Lawyers and Judges. (March 2010). Texas Bar Journal, Vol. 73, No. 3 Authors Judge Gena Slaughter, presiding judge of the 191st Civil District Court in Dallas, and John Browning, a partner in Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, L.L.P. in Dallas, offer advice for judges and attorneys using social media.
    Robinson, Eric. P. Using the Internet During Trial: What About Judges?. (March 2010). Citizen Media Law Project The author examines the issue of judges using the internet and social media to conduct research during trial and highlights recent developments in New York and Ohio.  While jurors and judges have different standards of conduct - Judges follow ethics rules and rules of evidence and jurors follow jury instructions - the author suggests that "at least to the extent feasible, judges and legislators should devise consistent rules for Internet and social media use, lest it look like our legal system embraces a double standard." 
    Lee, Rachel C. Ex Parte Blogging: The Legal Ethics of Supreme Court Advocacy in the Internet Era. (2009). Stanford Law Review, Vol. 61, Issue 6 This Stanford Law Review Note "examines the relationship between ex parte blogging and the traditional concepts of prejudicial publicity and ex parte communications. The Note concludes that ex parte blogging threatens the impartial administration of justice and will systematically disadvantage some litigants."
    Schwartz, John. A Legal Battle: Online Attitude vs. Rules of the Bar. (September 2009). The New York Times This article discusses the implications of attorneys using social networking sites. 
    Schwartz, John. For Judges on Facebook, Friendship Has Limits. (December 2009). The New York Times This article reviews the recent Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee's opinion that concluded that the possibility of the appearance of judicial impropriety required that it recommend against friending on Facebook.
    Opinion No. 17-2009, Re: Propriety of a magistrate judge being a member of a social networking site such as Facebook. (October 2009). South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct This advisory opinion addresses the propriety of a magistrate judge being a member of Facebook.  The Committee concluded that "Allowing a Magistrate to be a member of a social networking site allows the community to see how the judge communicates and gives the community a better understanding of the judge.  Thus, a judge may be a member of a social networking site such as Facebook."
    Opinion Number: 2009-20. (November 2009). Florida Supreme Court, Ethics Advisory Committee This opinion addressed several questions concerning judicial use of social networking sites.
    Raysman, Richard, and Peter Brown How Blogging Affects Legal Proceedings. (May 2009). New York Law Journal This article includes a discussion of attorneys and judges using social media.
    California Judges Association Formal Opinion No. 66 - Online Social Networking. (2011).

    This judicial ethics opinion addresses three questions: 1) May a judge be a member of an online social networking community? 2) May a judge include lawyers who may appear before the judge in the judge’s online social networking? and 3) May a judge include lawyers who have a case pending before the judge in the judge’s online social networking? The answer to questions 1) and 2) is a very qualified yes. The answer to question 3) is no.

    Massachusetts Committee on Judicial Ethics, Opinion No. 2011-6. (2011).

    This advisory opinion provides guidance on the parameters of Code-appropriate judicial use of Facebook for a judge who is making the transition from private practice to a judgeship with the Trial Court. The opinion concludes, "The Code does not prohibit judges from joining social networking sites, thus you may continue to be a member of Facebook, taking care to conform your activities with the Code. A judge's "friending" attorneys on social networking sites creates the impression that those attorneys are in a special position to influence the judge. Therefore, the Code does not permit you to "friend" any attorney who may appear before you."

    New York Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 08-176. (January 2009). Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics This 2009 opinion states, "Provided that the judge otherwise complies with the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, he/she may join and make use of an Internet-based social network. A judge choosing to do so should exercise an appropriate degree of discretion in how he/she uses the social network and should stay abreast of the features of any such service he/she uses as new developments may impact his/her duties under the Rules."

    Social Media Policies

    Judicial Conference of the United States, Committee on Codes of Conduct Resource Packet for Developing Guidelines on Use of Social Media by Judicial Employees. (2010).

    This guide provides information to help courts develop policies on the use of social media by judicial employees. The guide also includes sample policy provisions and existing policy examples.

    City of Seattle Blogging Policy. (October 2009). Chief Technology Officer, City of Seattle
    Wong, James. Drafting Social Media Policies. (June 2009). Legal Technology at
    Guidelines for the Secure Use of Social Media by Federal Departments and Agencies. (September 2009). Federal Chief Information Officers Council
    National Association for Court Management Social Media Policy. (2010).

    NACM Social Media Policy was adopted by the NACM Board on July 19, 2010.  The policy includes information on NACM's social media use and a Social Media Plan.

    Social Media Policy. (April 2009). State of Delaware, Department of Technology and Information This policy provides guidelines for conduct by state employees who will use social media and social media venues to engage with customers on behalf of the State of Delaware.
    Towns, Steve. Tweeting for the Public Good. (January 2010). Governing Provides examples of how government agencies are successfully using social media, and highlights Utah's social media policies for state employees.
    Utah Judicial Council. Report of the Social Media Subcommittee of the Judicial Outreach Committee.

    The Social Media Subcommittee wrote and issued four reports on issues surrounding social media and the courts and presented them to the Judicial Council for action. The reports have been released and detail the actions taken so far on the Subcommittees recommendations and policies.

    Guidelines and Best Practices for Social Media Use in Washington State. Office of the Governor. (2010).

    This document, produced by the Office of the Governor in collaboration with other state agencies, provides guidance for social media use in Washington state.  The guidelines apply to state employees or contractors "who create or contribute to social networks, blogs, wikis, or any other kind of social media both on and off the domain for work purposes."  The guidelines include information and guidance on implementation of social media, acceptable personal and professional use, employment considerations, terms of service, security, and records retention issues.

    Web 2.0 - Guidelines for Use. Wake County, North Carolina Guidelines for Wake County's use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Granicus web video, and blogs.

    Cell Phones and Electronic Devices in Court

    Associated Press. Court: Woman`s Phone Annoying, but Not Contempt. (April 2010). The Washington Post Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently reversed a contempt order resulting from a Florida woman’s cell phone ringing in the courtroom.  The Court held that there was no evidence that the woman's actions " hindered or obstructed the court in the administration of justice, or lessened the court’s authority or dignity.”  The full opinion is available here .
    Press Advisory: New Guidelines for the Use and Possession of Electronic Devices in Court Facilities to Take Effect August 1, 2008. (July 2008). State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, External Affairs Division The Press Release announcing the state's new electronic device policy for its courts.

    Social Media Generally

    Sommermeyer, Michael S. All-a-Twitter: Harnessing New Media for Judicial Outreach and Communication. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. New-media tools need not be a threat to the integrity of the judiciary if they are employed with a clear set of objections and an understanding of potential misuse. Social media allow courts to directly reach out to communities, share success stories, and respond to constituent needs.
    Kostouros, John. Who Are Those Guys? Courts Face a Rapidly Changing News Industry. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. Traditional news organizations have been slashing news staffs, and many veteran court reporters have left the profession. New models of news coverage are emerging, bringing new challenges and new opportunities for courts wishing to communicate with the public.
    O`Clock, Christine Travis Olsen. Social Networking Tools for Courts. (September 2009). Power point presentation, NCSC Court Technology Conference This presentation defines the common social media tools, explains why courts should care about social media, provides examples of courts utilizing social media, and explains how to develop a social media strategy.
    Godwin, Bev. Government and Social Media. (March 2008). U.S. General Services Administration Presentation given at the Social Media for Communicators Conference. This website tracks government agencies on Twitter, including state, local, and federal, as well contractors, media, academics, non-profits, and governments outside of the U.S.
    Mashable: The Social Media Guide. The world's largest blog that is focused exclusively on Web 2.0 and Social Media news.
    Matrix of Web 2.0 Technology and Government. (July 2008). and Web Best Practices, GSA Office of Citizen Services This matrix discusses the different social media technologies, provides examples of how they are used by various federal government agencies, and details the opportunity and potential uses by government agencies.