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Trial by social media

In the legal system, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. When someone is swept up in social media outrage, they are afforded no such luxury.

Proponents

Context

Social media outrage goes against the principles of many democratic justice systems and undermines the legal process. For every Harvey Weinstein that is condemned by social media for the abhorrent and unacceptable acts they commit, is a whole host of others that are condemned no less ferociously for a crime or malicious act they did not commit.

The Argument

In a courtroom, a defendant is presumed innocent until evidence is presented that suggests otherwise. Once the defendant is proven guilty, a qualified judge considers the case and determines the appropriate punishment. This is a basic principle of many countries' legal systems. Social media offers an alternative model. It wreaks public scorn and condemnation on the accused, making them a social pariah and alienating them from civil society. But there is no due process. There is no opportunity to consider or review evidence. In many cases, people's lives or livelihoods can be ruined in an instant without a single shred of evidence against them. George Takei and Ed Westwick both had their careers ruined because of claims made against them in Facebook posts, not a court room. In the case of actor Ed Westwick, one victim wrote one Facebook post which was then picked up by tens of thousands of people. A television drama he starred in was then promptly pulled by the BBC.[1] It is hard to see this as anything but the modern equivalent of mob justice and violence. This undermines the legal process and one of the core democratic principles of innocent until proven guilty.

Counter arguments

“Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections,” Mitt Romney wrote on Twitter defending his condemnation of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Roy Moore stood accused of molesting teenage girls. There may not have been sufficient evidence to secure a legal conviction, but there were enough credible testimonies for the allegations to cost him the Alabama Senate race and have Moore forcibly removed from polite society. It is because the bar for social media outrage and scorn is so much lower than a judicial conviction that it is a positive force in society. It can hold people to account that would have otherwise escaped justice, like Roy Moore. This lower bar for culpability, while it may mean some innocent people are caught up from time to time, has a positive societal impact overall.

Premises

[P1] In a court, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty [P2] Online, those accused of crimes are often presumed guilty without any proof. [P3] This undermines the legal system and ruins innocent people's lives. [P4] Therefore, social media outrage is not a positive societal influence.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] Some proof is required, there is just a lower bar for culpability online. [Rejecting P4] This lower bar for guilt means many guilty people are held to account for their crimes even when the justice system has been unable to secure a conviction.

References

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201808/how-trial-media-can-undermine-the-courtroom

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This page was last edited on Monday, 10 Jun 2019 at 19:08 UTC