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While social media has had a positive impact on the legal system and made dissemination of information to clients easier, issues of confidentiality and privacy too have to be tackled.

By Satya Muley

The impact of social media on the legal field has been significant in recent years. It has transformed the way the legal profession functions, including the transmission and tracking of information by lawyers and the judiciary alike.

However, the use of social media in the legal system has also raised a number of ethical considerations for lawyers, including issues related to confidentiality and privacy. As a result, many legal associations in several countries have issued guidelines for the use of social media by professionals and entities operating in the legal system such as lawyers, police, judiciary and enforcement and investigating agencies. But at the same time, social media has had a significant impact on the legal system, affecting the way legal cases are investigated, tried and adjudicated and this is likely to shape the profession in the years to come.

Some of the ways in which social media has influenced the legal system are:

  • Evidence Gathering: Social media has become a valuable source of evidence in legal cases. Lawyers and law enforcement agencies do use social media to gather information and evidence about individuals and events that may be relevant to a case.
  • Public Opinion: Social media has also played a role in shaping public opinion about legal cases. The platform allows individuals to share opinions and thoughts about legal cases with a wider audience, potentially influencing the outcome of the case.
  • Cyber bullying and harassment: Social media has also given rise to new forms of cyber bullying and harassment, which can have legal consequences. Even lawyers and the judiciary have been targeted on social media to influence their performance. 
  • Privacy Concerns: The use of social media in legal cases has raised concerns about privacy. Individuals may share information that they do not want to be used against them in a legal case and lawyers and law enforcement agencies must navigate these concerns carefully.

However, there are many ways in which social media has positively impacted the legal system. These include:

  • Increased access to justice: Legal professionals can share information about legal rights and resources on social media, making it easier for individuals to understand and access the legal system.
  • Improved Communication: Social media has changed the way lawyers communicate with their clients and colleagues. Lawyers are now able to communicate with their clients in real-time, answer questions, and provide updates about their cases. In addition, they can share information and documents and collaborate with other lawyers.
  • Speedy Dissemination of information: News about legal cases can be shared quickly and easily on social media platforms, keeping the public informed about the progress of cases. 
  • Improved Public Participation: Social media has made it easier for the public to participate in legal proceedings. Many platforms are offering live streaming of cases or real time minute by minute updates of court proceedings. Individuals can use social media to express their opinions and thoughts about legal cases, and lawyers can use social media to engage with the public and gather feedback.

Of course, the negative impact includes spreading false information, defamation and manipulation of public opinion. People have gone to the extent of posting abusive content against the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. Several social media users have been held guilty of contempt of court for posting information or comments about ongoing proceedings that could prejudice the outcome of the case or for sensationalising the judicial proceedings with a criminal intent. 

Issues such as media trial by conventional media such as newspapers and television are no longer new. Social media has gone a step further as the posts have the potential and ability to go viral and spread like wildfire. Its impact is especially so in the sphere of public opinion formation in the context to key issues such as law making, socio-legal and political subjects. Common people are victims of misleading and false information in the context to law and legal cases, but at the same time, a large section of society has become more aware about subjects related to rights and laws. 

No doubt, social media will continue to have diverse impact on legal systems across the globe in the near future. 

—The writer is an Advocate in the Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court and is the founder of law firm Satya Muley & Co.

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