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Ethics of social media

September 16, 2020

Modern social media has been around for almost twenty years. Most Myspace pages may be collecting virtual dust these days, but Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, and others are going strong. Pew reports that as of February 2019, 72% of U.S. adults are on social media. With 3.96 billion people worldwide using social media, over half the world’s population, it is of no surprise the topic came up at this summer’s virtual CCJ/COSCA conference. At the conference, courts and judges were encouraged to consider joining social media to share information, as part of the battle to fight disinformation, and to connect with the community, all with the eye of maintaining the integrity of the courts within the communities they serve.

While social media is a valuable tool, it also comes with potential ethical pitfalls for judges. The Summer 2020 edition the National Center for State Court’s Center for Judicial Ethics' Judicial Conduct Reporter tackles the evolving landscape of disqualification based on a judge’s social media relationship. Key findings from that review include:

  • Disqualification is not required based solely on social media relationship
  • Facts and circumstances of a social media relationship may disqualify a judge
  • One must look at the nature and scope of the on-line relationship to determine whether the connection raises a reasonable question concerning impartiality, including but not limited to:
    • Frequency of communication
    • Substance of communication
    • Number of social media connections
    • The nature of the social media account

The review will also include a look at who a judge is friends with and the frequency in which the judge and the party in question interact with each other on the social media platform.

Judges running for a seat on the bench have an additional set of rules to consider for the use of websites and social media for their campaign. For example, Florida has approved:

  • the creation of a judicial hashtag,
  • first-person statements about campaign activities,
  • links for contributions.

Social media is a valuable tool and one the judicial branch should be better utilizing, but ethical concerns may leave some hesitant to proceed into previously uncharted territory. NCSC is here to help. The Center for Judicial Ethics provides a review of the latest opinions from across the country, and our Social Media and the Courts Network will help you get online and start connecting.

Are you or your court using social media? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences.