Source of the following article Persuasive Litigator.

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm: 


Good advocates will spend considerable amounts of time wondering about their audience. They’ll also wonder about the parties and the witnesses on the other side. What do we know about them? Beyond what we see in the courtroom or learn about through the official procedure, what else is there? What are their attitudes, what do they do for fun, and what makes them tick? Today’s advocates have a pretty big window into that world that was not available to prior generations: social media. Checking on the public profiles has become a normal step in assessing the other side and, of course, in informing the process of challenging and striking jurors. It’s also not a bad idea to check on your own witnesses, and yourself, just to see what the other side will find. But one key fact to remember is that social media is not just one window into that task, it is many windows. 

According to Pew Research, the majority of adults on the internet have more than one social networking profile. And based on a new study (Zhong et al., 2017), those distinct profiles are not simply copies of each other. The study, explained in a Pennsylvania State news release, looked at 116,998 social media users, tapping into the site in order to compare and contrast the individuals’ accounts across the ‘Big 4’ social media destinations: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. The study found distinctions in the ways different demographic groups portray themselves (women display more positive emotional expressions, for example). But the most important finding is that individuals seem to employ different strategies in representing themselves on different sites. Following norms that are specific to each social media platform, most individuals will tacitly follow those rules, “subconsciously adapting the behavior modeled to fit in.” It is as if you’re seeing a different person on each platform. These personas stem from a desire to follow the culture and etiquette of each site. One author, Pennsylvania State Professor Dongwon Lee, explains, “A photo of someone’s colorful Starbucks drink may be popular on Instagram, but the same image post to LinkedIn would be frowned upon.” So, as advocates aim to take in the full picture, that means looking in all the windows — all the public ones I should say.  

No Surprise

At one level, the study’s results showing that individuals adapt their persona to different social media platforms is likely to be met with a, “Well, no kidding.” It’s only natural, after all, to think that users will share differently in the informal and formal settings, and those party pics are going to end up on Facebook, not LinkedIn. On the other hand, it’s an axiom in social science that what we think is true doesn’t always bear out in the research. So, in this case, it is important to note that social media venue differences do bear out. 

Don’t Mistake Informality for Honesty

Those of us who research public social media might be tempted to think that the more informal a setting is, the more truthful the individual is likely to be in that setting. As far as social media research in the legal context goes, however, I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it. First, we all don’t just have one true personality that is muted in more formal settings. Instead, we adapt: show different faces, wear different costumes. We share some facets in informal settings, and we share other facets in more formal settings. But second, the courtroom is one of those more formal settings. So while it is always interesting to see a juror’s Facebook face, what they bring to jury duty might be more like their LinkedIn face. 

Look at All of Them

The central principle is that everything matters. If you want a complete picture on a potential adversary witness, or juror, then consider all public communications you can find. That, of course, goes beyond Googling. Unlike the rest of the internet, social media sites tend to be what are called “walled gardens,” meaning that the information on that site is typically not exported to other sites, nor will it be necessarily found in general internet searches. So researchers generally need to check multiple sites, paying particular attention to Facebook and Instagram (the informal sites), and LinkedIn and (the more formal sites). Twitter, for its part, seems to swing both ways depending on the individual and their network. The law of individual differences likely applies here as well: While there are broad tendencies on which platforms are more “professional” and which are more focused on “fun and friends,” different people are also quite likely to use the sites in different ways. So, look at as much public information and as many public profiles as you’re able to.  


Other Posts on Social Media Research: 


Zhong, C., Chan, H. W., Karamshu, D., Lee, D., & Sastry, N. (2017). Wearing Many (Social) Hats: How Different are Your Different Social Network Personae?. arXiv preprint arXiv:1703.04791.

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