By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The way we create, locate, and measure public opinion is changing, and fast. It used to be that we treated the body public as a passive audience waiting to be canvased, surveyed, or focus-grouped. Today, however, people in all demographics are active in public and semipublic internet spaces creating, sharing, and liking their way to an electronic body of evidence that's unparalleled in history. The existence and continued growth of that body is starting to affect the way we research, including in the litigation world. In what I called the "best trial idea of 2011," I previously discussed the concept of "social listening." Originally a technique used by market research firms in order to keep track of online statements about a product, a company, or an issue, social listening stands to become a tool promoted and used by some consultants to monitor and react to large-scale discussions about high profile court battles like the Casey Anthony trial.
Of course, at least some of that promotion may be jumping the gun a bit. But still, when there is a pool of searchable information out there, it is only inevitable that social scientists will be drawn to it. And what social scientists use, lawyers, litigation consultants, and even the jurors themselves are bound to use as well. But even as we cautiously approach this new source of data, we need to be aware of a distorting effect. If social media is "a mirror up to society," it is more like a funhouse mirror, magnifying some areas and diminishing others. As interactive Web 2.0 features are increasingly used as a guide to public opinion, this post looks at some new research on the extent of social media's distortion and identifies a few practical places where we should account for that distortion.