If you’re a trial lawyer preparing for jury selection, it’s likely that the majority of your potential jurors will have a Facebook account. Facebook allows users to “like” just about anything. Musicians. Authors. Television shows. Actors. Books. Politicians. Restaurants. Nonprofit organizations. Political groups. You name it. And these simple “likes” can provide a wealth of information on your jury pool.
A psychological sciences study claimed that a computer program could “predict” your personality based on what you “like” on Facebook. The authors stated: “…computers’ judgments of people’s personalities based on their digital footprints are more accurate and valid than judgments made by their close others or acquaintances (friends, family, spouse, colleagues, etc.).”
Facebook ‘Likes’ Are Often Public, Even on Private Profiles
Whether you believe a computer is better equipped to judge your personality than your spouse, there is much to be learned by glancing over a potential juror’s Facebook “likes.” Yes, Facebook pages may have strict privacy settings that make it impossible to view a juror’s posts, but if the account settings are public, or the privacy of the “likes” have not been locked down, the data is fair game.
And here’s a tip: Just because a person has a friends-only, seemingly private Facebook page does not mean his “likes” are friends-only, too. If you see this when researching John Doe, be sure to click on the “more” button. It may provide a treasure-trove of information.
Before you embark on such a quest, familiarize yourself with the ABA guidelines and local court rules regarding online research of prospective jurors. [See our previous post for more information on ethical internet sleuthing.] Bottom line: Never, ever “friend” a potential juror or create a direct or indirect connection for the sole purpose of researching a juror.
But make no mistake: engaging in a little Facebook reconnaissance before exercising strikes is an excellent use of time and resources.
For example, let’s say you’re a defendant in an environmental contamination case and Juror #10 “likes” the Sierra Club, a local Save the Lake group, and organic foods. Juror #10 ought to have a big red flag next to his name before jury selection even begins.
Translating “Likes” into Something Meaningful
But what if Juror #10 doesn’t have any obvious case-related “likes?” Don’t be afraid to read between the lines and formulate a few “like”-based suppositions.
- Are the juror’s musical tastes in line with current trends or norms, or are they a bit off-the-beaten-path? If the band seems odd for a person’s age (e.g., a 23-year old who loves Captain & Tennille), or if the genre is less than mainstream (e.g., pirate metal (yes, that’s a thing)), it could signal a juror who marches to the beat of a different drummer (no pun intended). While not necessarily strike-worthy, it is certainly something to keep in mind when considering group dynamics.
- Are his favorite establishments considered 5-star or 2-star? There’s no way to know whether the juror merely likes these venues, or whether he frequents them. However, if the juror has a lifestyle that doesn’t seem to support such lavish splurges, then you may want to delve more deeply into his views on soft damages.
- Do his favorite television shows engage the intellect, or are they pure entertainment? Who’s likely to be more cognitively invested in the evidence: a juror who watches Judge Judy and Cupcake Wars, or someone who enjoys History Channel documentaries and Dateline?
- What are his favorite movies? A juror who names Erin Brockovich, A Civil Action, or China Syndrome as favorites is probably not an ideal defense juror in a case with environmental issues or medical illness. But if you’re representing a victim? This juror may be a gem in disguise.
- Do his hobbies include playing baseball or soccer, or does he prefer to fish and tinker with old transistor radios? A juror who engages in team sports, or hobbies that require human interaction, problem-solving or group strategy may be more comfortable speaking up and participating in the deliberation room. This doesn’t mean a fly-fishing introvert will be a wallflower, but hobbies can shed light on whether a person is an introvert or extrovert.
Evaluating a juror’s interests via their Facebook “likes” can obviously help determine a potential juror’s interests and hobbies, but it can also shed a little light as to potential socioeconomic status, risk-taking behavior, intellectual curiosity, and views on fiscal and social issues.
And when trying to ascertain whether a complete stranger would be a safe bet or a dire risk in the jury box, the more information the better.