By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Good advocates will spend considerable amounts of time wondering about their audience. They'll also wonder about the parties and the witnesses on the other side. What do we know about them? Beyond what we see in the courtroom or learn about through the official procedure, what else is there? What are their attitudes, what do they do for fun, and what makes them tick? Today's advocates have a pretty big window into that world that was not available to prior generations: social media. Checking on the public profiles has become a normal step in assessing the other side and, of course, in informing the process of challenging and striking jurors. It's also not a bad idea to check on your own witnesses, and yourself, just to see what the other side will find. But one key fact to remember is that social media is not just one window into that task, it is many windows.
According to Pew Research, the majority of adults on the internet have more than one social networking profile. And based on a new study (Zhong et al., 2017), those distinct profiles are not simply copies of each other. The study, explained in a Pennsylvania State news release, looked at 116,998 social media users, tapping into the About.me site in order to compare and contrast the individuals' accounts across the 'Big 4' social media destinations: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. The study found distinctions in the ways different demographic groups portray themselves (women display more positive emotional expressions, for example). But the most important finding is that individuals seem to employ different strategies in representing themselves on different sites. Following norms that are specific to each social media platform, most individuals will tacitly follow those rules, "subconsciously adapting the behavior modeled to fit in." It is as if you're seeing a different person on each platform. These personas stem from a desire to follow the culture and etiquette of each site. One author, Pennsylvania State Professor Dongwon Lee, explains, "A photo of someone’s colorful Starbucks drink may be popular on Instagram, but the same image post to LinkedIn would be frowned upon." So, as advocates aim to take in the full picture, that means looking in all the windows -- all the public ones I should say.