March 12th, 2012 | 1 Comment
Every time I think things in the justice system couldn’t be worse, something comes along that suggests I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I stumbled upon such a thing yesterday.
I discovered that Maricopa County Superior Court has an official Twitter account. The court has harnessed the power of social media and is tweeting about all kinds of things. Its tweets range from the mundane, like a link to a pic of the new cafe in courthouse, to the anything-but-mundane, like who’s getting sentenced to life in prison.
My trip down the rabbit hole didn’t end there. Through the magic of social networking, I connected to the Official Twitter Account for the Arizona Judicial Branch. They aren’t nearly as prolific, having tweeted only a few times total and quite irregularly, and they mostly tweet about things like job openings and public input on judicial nominees. Through their page, I saw that courts all over the place are taking to Twitter as well.
I have to assume that someone on the government payroll is doing all of this. Someone is drawing a salary on the taxpayers’ back, and that same someone is using some of his or time to tweet about who’s in what court and what’s happening where. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around it.
See, a court isn’t a business. It shouldn’t be a business. If you’re trying to sell something, sure, market yourself all over the internet. Tweet all you want. RT and reply all day long. Put on your fancy shoes and a tight little outfit, strut your stuff online, and let the world know you’re open for business. Someone’s gonna notice you, even if it’s only for the moment they follow you and the whole reason they’re on Twitter in the first place is to convince people like you to pay them to do what you’re already doing by tweeting. Again, if that’s how you want to build a business, go for it. Who am I to judge?
Courts aren’t people either. If you personally want to use Twitter to build 140-character relationships with other people who seem interesting, go for it. You may have some fun. You may make new friends. Maybe you’ll even meet someone special. Courts don’t need friends, however. Most people who find themselves in court would rather not be there. If anything, courts should be trying to cut down on the number of people appearing before them, not connecting with new people. The Maricopa County Superior Court has general jurisdiction over the lives and property of almost four million people; I’m pretty sure people know it’s out there, and staff certainly don’t need to be using work time to make friends for themselves or their enormous entity boss.
There’s something to be said for community outreach, but I hardly see tweets making much of a difference. I didn’t feel particularly connected after reading about how someone’s Maricopa County Superior Court sentencing got moved or how someone else’s initial appearance video was finally posted online. I imagine some people will feel disenfranchised having information about their case published on Twitter. Some might feel that way when they aren’t mentioned on Twitter. I thought the court had a media liaison of some kind. That seems more than sufficient to inform the public without turning the justice system into a circus.
If the court wants to engage the community, it should get more people to answer the phones. I’ve had all kinds of trouble reaching various clerks, judicial assistants, and administrators from time to time. The court could start calling people when their hearings get vacated too, or it could hire some extra staff to expedite rulings on motions or figure out how to help people avoid spending hours waiting for a simple continuance. Tweets do nothing to improve the experience of people appearing before the courts. It hardly constitutes improved access either. I doubt they’ll tweet you back the bond and the charges if you inquire about your warrant. Maybe they’ll let me file suit by tweet if it’s within the 140-character limit? I see no reason why a court needs a social media presence. Quite simply, the court’s resources could be better spent elsewhere.
Seeing courts on Twitter confirms some of my worst fears. It tells me the mindset of embracing new technology purely for the sake of embracing new technology has taken hold in the courts. It’s the unholy marriage of America’s love of the coolest new thing with the immense power of the state. The illusion of hallowed halls of justice is breaking down. Instead of venerable courts worthy of respect, we have institutions that apparently don’t have any problem broadcasting on a forum worthy of such deep and meaningful topics as #worstpickuplines and #stuffifoundinmynose.
First they tweet. Maybe next they live stream. Someday they’ll nationally televise every trial with judges providing critique but with America ultimately in charge of the verdict by texting guilty or not guilty to a certain number. At least Ryan Seacrest will never be hurting for work.
Pop culture is here, and it’s invaded everything. Idiocracy can’t be too far away.