Trials & Litigation

Live Tweets of Biker Murder Trial and Others Raise Issues of Balance and Fairness

Especially when cameras aren’t allowed in the courtroom, live tweets are the next best thing to being at a trial for those with an interest in the case.

But the stream-of-consciousness reportage of the ongoing courtroom drama can raise issues of exploitation and fairness, as was demonstrated on a daily basis in the much-covered biker murder trial two years ago in Ontario, Canada, and last fall’s sentencing of a former military colonel accused of killing and sexually attacking women, the Edmonton Journal reported

The words, actions and even attire each day of the the defendant bikers accused of slaying eight fellow Banditos were of interest to wide swath of individuals. Similarly, the sentencing of sex-crime defendant Russell Williams was followed by a group of people ranging from police officers and social workers to friends and family of the victims and the defendants.

“People were quite captivated by what was being tweeted,” says reporter Meghan Hurley of the Ottawa Citizen, who covered the Williams case on Twitter. “A lot of the feedback was people saying, ‘I can’t do my work because I’m watching this.’”

However, the new medium creates new issues, such as the possibility that witnesses excluded from the courtroom prior to their testimony will nonetheless find out what is being said there.

And, associate journalism professor Ivor Shapiro of Ryerson University has to wonder, a what point would it be better simply to substitute a trained stenographer to provide a complete transcript instead of pumping out streams of unedited, minute-by-minute content?

Reporter Kate Dubinski of the London Free Press tells the Edmonton newspaper that she tried hard to put sensitive information in context, so that the more lurid details of the trial weren’t unduly disturbing to her Twitter followers.

Related coverage: Microblogging of Conn. Murder Trial Has Some Media-Watchers Atwitter

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