December 12, 2017

Paper — Judicial Ethics and Social Networking Sites

Judicial Ethics and Social Networking Sites (PDF)

One of the significant developments in communication in the last few years is the astounding growth of social networking websites. Increasing numbers of people join Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or other on-line social networks as a means to notify others of news in their lives, to learn what their friends and relatives and acquaintances are doing, and to generally stay in touch with other people with whom they have something in common. Businesses, organizations and government agencies use social networks to communicate information about their products and services and get limited feedback. For individuals, and for some kinds of organizations, the appeal of such sites is the opportunity for ongoing back-and-forth communication among large groups of people. Typically a social network allows someone to post a profile and photographs, videos, music, etc., and invite others to become “friends” or “fans.” Some information may be shared with the whole world; other parts may be restricted to a select, small group.

For some time now state bar regulatory agencies have been addressing the effect of electronic communication on traditional ethical rules for lawyers ? the extent to which law firm websites constitute advertising, whether e-mail inquiries establish an attorney/client relationship, and so on. Likewise, judges hearing cases have faced new legal issues involving electronic discovery and searches of computers. Judges are becoming familiar, too, with problems of jurors communicating with the outside world and conducting their own research via their Blackberries, smart phones and other devices.

Compared to the information available on those other electronic communication issues, there is relatively little reference material for judges concerning their own social networking and the Code of Judicial Conduct. The purpose of this paper is to share some information addressing questions of judges’ personal use of social networks. I welcome any additional material anyone knows about.

Source: Michael Crowell, UNC School of Government

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