Journalism Politics Technology

Twitter in the courtroom: what is the value added?

When Conservatives want to carp on “wasteful government spending,” the well they pull from again and again is government-funded scientific research. Because of course, what could more typify waste and abuse than a 1 million dollar project to study whale sperm?

But information doesn’t work like that, and neither does science. One cannot know, when they begin a research project, what they will discover by its end. And even less knowable are the mysteries that may be solved with a random scrap of information from your work. Science works like that all the time.

And it is with this in mind that I’m struggling to understand Twitter in the courtroom. Journalism and science work off of many of the same ethical standards, the first being that knowledge is valuable even if its value is not always immediately understood. Journalists have always fought with the justice system on the limits of their ability to cover trials – from cameras to now the stenographers of modern media, Twitter accounts. But having observed a fair share of courtroom cases covered by Twitter accounts, I become less and less enamored of their supposed ability to enlighten.

The problem seems to be that, while a full accounting of what happens in a court room is certainly enlightening, what happens on a Twitter feed does not quite live up to that standard. How could it, at 140 characters a clip, typed hurriedly on a tiny little phone keyboard? Instead what we get is sort of reverse TV Guide of what has happened as it comes up, without the benefit of seeing or hearing any of the testimony.

Not to pick on Sean Carroll, who is a good journalist. But it is difficult to imagine this information providing any particular insight into the unfortunate case of Richard Dallas, the man accused of raping a nine month old baby. Instead, it half paints a picture that the audience is invited to fill up with their own prejudices.

The result is not more information, its less information about more things.

Update: Twitter responses

Because I got so many responses, I thought I’d highlight some of them. It is clear that Rochester is getting tired of this trend:

Update #2: More Twitter!

Because I’ve had the opportunity to have a well-publicized debate with my very good friend, fellow blogger and Twitter journalism evangelist Rachel Barnhart about twitter in the courtroom, I decided to include it on the post for further food for thought.