Here’s a question. Since Google, Google News, Facebook, Twitter – i.e., the world of new and social media – entered your life, do you think you’re more informed? OK, maybe you’re spending more time with “news” each day, but that’s not really the question. What exactly are you learning?
According to a new Center for Justice & Democracy study Headline Blues: Civil Justice In The Age Of New Media, when it comes to the civil justice system, what you’re learning isn’t so great. It’s deeply skewed, fueling common misperceptions that civil juries routinely award plaintiffs eye-popping verdicts for frivolous claims. These “new media” trends, which rely on headlines or brief, sensationalized descriptions, are producing an even more distorted understanding of our civil jury system.
CJ&D explains how digital news aggregators like Google and social media like Facebook and Twitter function by communicating only the briefest set of words and often just headlines. These headlines commonly emphasize large monetary awards, which do not reflect typical verdicts, and rarely note the misconduct that led to the verdict in the first place.
Plus, CJ&D notes, economic pressures facing shrinking newsrooms, combined with the accelerating speed at which news must be produced, means that the public is being exposed to an overwhelming amount of brief, sensationalized and often incomplete coverage of civil jury verdicts. CJ&D observed, for example, that a verdict subject to state law that automatically "caps" damages regardless of what a jury awards, is clearly something about which readers should be told. Yet this is not being done, or at least not being done clearly and responsibly. Says CJ&D, this is harming the public discourse about the civil justice system and preventing everyday people from understanding how important this system is to them in their daily lives.
We try here at ThePopTort to counter some of these trends, but we're just one humble little blog. What do you say, fellow bloggers? Let us know what you think!
(A copy of the full study is here.)