Almost a year ago, the ABA released Formal Opinion 466 clarifying that it is permissible for “a lawyer to [passively] review a juror’s or potential juror’s [public] Internet presence.” Since then, researching seated or potential jurors online has not only become an option, but a necessity. Any additional information on your panel can aid in jury selection and during the actual trial, and lawyers should be doing everything they can to gather information about the individuals who may become the deciders in their case. With the accessibility and abundance of information on the Internet, it would be senseless not to use it.
67 percent of adults use at least one social media website, with 52 percent of adults using two or more. Ranging from blogs to the all-mighty Facebook, there are hundreds of social media websites where you can gain information about a potential juror. Facebook alone has 1.4 billion active users, 25 percent of whom do not use any privacy settings on their account. LinkedIn comes in at 7th with 347 million active users, and the 10th-ranked social network Twitter had over 288 million active monthly users as of March 2015 (statista.com). Beyond social networks, there are also public Internet articles, company websites, public documents, and many more sources of information that can inform you on a potential juror. But with all that information out there, it can be challenging to filter through it and find useful information. I will provide several tips on how to go about locating the full range of an individual’s online presence, and share some guidelines on identifying useful information once you do find the person.
It is easy enough to type a juror’s name into Google and sit back while the site generates thousands of hits for you. This is a great way to get some information, however there are several limitations to using this method alone. First, social media sites (such as Facebook or LinkedIn) may or may not come up as a hit. And when they do, most of the time it will take you to a “search” page with every person with the same name. It is much more efficient to go straight to the social media site and search directly within that site. This way, you can make sure to find all possible information. This is especially important in Facebook, given the variety of privacy options. Even when someone chooses a private option, there are still some features that might show publicly. For example,an individual may block Google from showing their information, but if you find them directly on Facebook their account is public. Often only basic information is made public, but other information is blocked, which you can only find out if you go directly to their home page. But any information is better than no information at all, even the profile picture and cover photo may be able to show you something. In addition, the matches generated by Google are often biased toward your personal preferences based on your past history of searches. One way to make sure you are casting the broadest net is to use a variety of key words, like you would with any other research project. Typing in the jurors name and state alone may generate different results than typing in, for example, “blog” + name and state. Helpful keywords may be:
- City, State
- Company they work for
- Spouse’s name
- “Social media”
If you are finding information on a juror or potential juror, make sure you have the right person. If you are lucky enough to have a supplemental juror questionnaire as part of your voir dire, this process is much easier. You want to make sure that the person you are researching has the same demographics as the one on the questionnaire. If you are not so lucky, Whitepages (and like sites) become one of your best friends. Use Whitepages to first see how many people with the same name are listed in your trial venue. From there, I like to match the potential relatives – especially ones that have the same address, with the juror’s social media information. For instance, if your juror is “Facebook Friends” with the same person Whitepages says lives at their address, chances are you have the correct person.
Once you find social media information on the juror, what do you look for? It is crucial to dig beyond a first glance look at the social media home page in order to get the most out of the search. When you look at a potential juror’s social media page, there are many places you can look in order to obtain useful information. The first step is finding general information, such as demographics, education, and occupation. This can be helpful in determining who the juror may be and what they do for a living. Beyond that, you can look at their additional interests, the groups they affiliate with, and their specific comments in order to determine attitudes, beliefs, and opinions. This information can help you get an idea of the type of person the juror is: if they are generally a liberal or conservative individual, and if they hold views or have experiences that are likely to help or hurt your case. Then, take it one step further by looking for information that is case-specific. For instance, if you are an oil and gas defendant, you would flag any high-risk characteristics (e.g., someone with pro-environmental or anti-corporate views ). You can also gain understanding from a social media page of the ways individuals like to portray themselves, which may be a good indication of their leadership potential or how they will act in deliberations. All of this information can inform your questioning of the juror during the voir dire, or even a decision to strike the juror without speaking to them at all. Ultimately, knowing the whole picture helps you determine whether this potential juror would hurt or help your case. Below I have broken down ways to find this beneficial information using three top social media websites:
- Likes – On Facebook, people have the option to “Like” certain interests or organizations. Preferences on music, TV shows, and hobbies can be found on each member’s left-hand sidebar. This is also a great place to look in order to find political affiliations, supported causes, and other views they may hold. “Likes” can be used to determine if they hold any case-specific views or pro-plaintiff/defendant attitudes in general.
- Dislikes – Although Facebook does not have a “Dislike” button (Don’t we all wish it did?), looking at what potential jurors do not like can also be helpful in determining their attitudes and beliefs. For example, liking the page “NObama” is a good indication of their political affiliation. Negative opinions can also be found on public posts, comments, or articles.
- Groups – Membership in a group can show what issues a potential juror is involved in. This is a step beyond a “Like” because it requires more active involvement, which can get you more information about attitudes and beliefs.
- Friends – It can be beneficial to take a quick scan through the potential jurors’ “Friends” list. Not only can this step help you determine if you have the correct juror, it can also tell you whether that juror may know or have a relationship to a political figure, judge, or someone else relevant to your case.
- Posts – What jurors post or the comments they make on other posts or articles can provide great information. First, what they say can give you an idea of their attitudes and beliefs. How they say it can give you an idea of how strong that belief is, how outspoken and opinionated they may be in deliberations, as well as in jury leadership. Finally, the way in which they say it can provide you with information on their education level and self-perception and presentation.
- Pictures – Even on Facebook, a picture can say a thousand words and provide you with information on the jurors’ interests and identities.
- Job – LinkedIn is a great resource to find out what a potential juror does professionally, where they work, and who they have contact with, now as well as in the past.
- Education – You can find more detailed information of a potential juror’s education on LinkedIn, as many users structure their pages like a resume: their school, their major, and their clubs and activities they participated in while they were in school. This information can help you get an overall idea of the individual’s background, skills, and interests.
- Groups – Groups on LinkedIn are more professional then the ones found on Facebook. This is especially helpful when flagging high-risk jurors during a civil case.
- Following – Looking at who the juror is following is similar to what groups they are a member of. It allows insight into the potential juror’s attitudes and interests.
- Self-proclaimed qualities – Many LinkedIn pages have a section in which the individual lists qualities they feel they have. This, I think, can be one of the most helpful pieces of information because it reveals how people want to present themselves. That could be an idealization, but it could also indicate how they will want to be seen during voir dire, trial, and deliberations. Reading these self-perceptions can also inform your approach in addressing them during jury selection.
- Posts – Tweets are an excellent resource for getting an idea of jurors’ opinions and attitudes. A lot of Tweets on Twitter can provide you with information on the potential juror’s feelings, beliefs, and interests on certain topics.
- Followings – Looking at who a potential juror follows on Twitter can show their affiliations with various interests, policies, and viewpoints.
- Followers: Just as looking at potential jurors’ “Friends” in Facebook, looking at who follows the potential juror on Twitter can help serve identifying purposes and determine that juror’s connection to any case-related individuals or entities.
Researching a juror’s Internet presence is definitely a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process. You may spend hours delving through names without gathering much information. But when you do find something, it can be a goldmine that can significantly help your jury selection and your overall case.
Guest post by Arianne Fuchsberger