January 27, 2019

Crowd-Sourcing Social Justice

If you've seen my previous blog post about Twitter, you'll know that I'm all about the community benefits of the platform. What you might not know (unless you've seen my crazy tattoos!) is that I've been quite the activist for social justice since I was a teenager, and Twitter has always been my favourite platform for facilitating this.

The fast-paced nature of this network makes it ideal for up to the minute news. Whether activists are using it to give blow-by-blow live accounts of demonstrations, or reporters are using it to keep the public up to date on courtroom proceedings, it has definitely altered the world of social justice both for better and for worse.

If you haven't yet listened to the incredible Serial podcast, you need to stop here and binge season one.

Once you've done that, you need to stop (again) and binge season one of the Undisclosed podcast (which, in my opinion, is even better than Serial).

Now we're all on the same page, let's begin.

The trial of Adnan Syed opened my eyes to a whole new world of Twitter users. Years after we all first heard about this case, I still don't really know whether or not Adnan was responsible for the death of Hae Min Lee, but I am still fascinated by how Twitter has played such a key role, and by how it continues to play such a huge role in many other cases.

During Adnan Syed's post conviction relief hearing in 2016 (a hearing in front of a judge to determine whether or not he received ineffective assistance of counsel in his first trial, and whether or not he should receive a new one), the team from the Undisclosed podcast attended and recorded their thoughts on the proceedings and let their listeners know what was going on inside the courthouse. The hearing was not televised, and although the media was allowed inside the courtroom, they were not allowed to record in there.

This is where Twitter came in. Reporters would periodically run outside the courtroom to tweet about what was going on, and this allowed people from all over the world to follow the hearing almost as it was happening. In the world of social justice, this is an incredible thing; we've almost been given live, open access to proceedings that were once behind closed doors. The fast-paced nature of this network also gives reporters much less opportunity to spin a story; it's just "tweet and go", so we're pretty much just getting the facts as they come in.

Colin Miller, one of the hosts of the Undisclosed podcast, was unable to make the hearing in person, so the majority of his reporting throughout the hearing was based entirely on his Twitter feed - crazy, right?

Of course, social media is always a double-edged sword, and this little case study is no different: take #uselesssteve, for example.

Steve was a surprise witness put on the stand by the state in this case. To introduce Steve to the courtroom, the prosecutor asked another witness under cross-examination whether she knew him, and she responded yes, and that he was "pretty useless" and "kind of goofy". Reporters (obviously) jumped on this, tweeted it out, and coined the hashtag #uselesssteve. Needless to say, this started trending due to the overall popularity of the case, and Steve's testimony could never really be taken seriously.

Another host of the podcast, Susan Simpson, was recording her thoughts intermittently throughout the hearing, and on several occasions she mentioned that she wasn't sure if the reporters were actually in the same room as her, because their tweets didn't really reflect what she was hearing in there.

This is because Twitter is a little bit like a good old fashioned game of telephone in circumstances like this. Reporters are hastily making notes in the courtroom; they're running out, grabbing their phones, trying to make sense of their scribbled notes and then putting them into a tweet (which was just 140 characters at the time). Certain things are bound to get lost in translation.

A few years on, we're still seeing an incredible community of social justice warriors making great waves on Twitter. The Truth & Justice podcast began with a focus, again, on the Adnan Syed trial, but more recently the host has taken on several more cases. In this podcast, the listener learns about the case at around the same pace as the host; week by week. This really means that crowd-sourced social justice is our wonderful reality in 2019. The #truthandjusticearmy on Twitter investigates and shares every case with the host, leading to a sense of community and a real push for true justice and reform.

I'm all about solidarity; I've got the word printed in huge, bold letters across my back (literally). Twitter is the home of solidarity on the internet, and I implore you to get stuck in and use it for what it was meant for all along. Community, connections and change.


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