By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.
One of the often-overlooked features of the social media revolution is how it has changed the consumer/product dynamic. In this era of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the long list of other social media sites, we are no longer the consumers; we are the product. It is our information and attention that drives profit in these industries. Companies like Facebook observe our online conduct and sell that data to other companies. Consequently, incredible attention in recent years has focused on how to keep users engaged in information consumption, which is what we do when we visit these technology platforms.
The impact of social media is hard to understate. There is strong evidence that it can generate addiction, cause physiological changes in our bodies, and alter the way in which our brains work. Many argue that this is the precise intention of these platform providers. Regardless, it has resulted in profound changes in how we consume information. In this blog post, I want to look at three simple findings from the social media research.
- Projecting facades of ourselves.This is a defining feature of social media, according to the experts. In short, when we put ourselves out there on social media, we strive to present the best version of ourselves or our “ideal” selves, regardless of whether or not it is actually grounded in reality. Sadly, research has shown that this is a key phenomenon that contributes to the depression and low self-esteem felt by many of social media’s most frequent users. Practically, this means attorneys should think about how they might need to focus on crafting theories of their cases that speak to how jurors see (or idealize) themselves, rather than who they actually are. It is not unusual for the biggest critic on a jury to be the juror who shares some of the same life experiences with the party he or she is critical of. This happens quite frequently. Obese jurors are more critical of obese parties, moms are more critical of other moms, and so on. It is because much of the case is being viewed through who the juror wants to be rather than who he or she actually is.
- Shorter “gotcha” windows. Research has shown that the age of social media has resulted in a decrease in the attention span of the average human, which currently sits around 8 seconds, compared to 12 seconds in the early 2000s. It is only going to get worse as people struggle to sort through the ever-growing sources of information in their lives. This has two key implications for attorneys. First, the importance of being short and succinct is more important than ever. Jurors desperately want you to get to the point and they want that point to be crystal clear. Second, attention-getters are no longer important just for the start of a presentation. The attention span research shows that keeping attention may be more difficult than getting attention at the start. This is why it is so important for attorneys to incorporate attention-getting strategies throughout their presentations, and most important, in their direct and cross examinations. Cross examination is not about what the witness is saying; it is about what you as the attorney want to tell the jury, and all of the rules about gaining and retaining attention apply just as much to those parts of trial.
- Redefining the influencers. Social media has given a voice to a whole new segment of society. Bloggers, podcasters, and YouTube families have entered the fray of celebrities and influencers, meaning the average person is being exposed to a more diverse set of messages than ever before. The takeaway here is that it may no longer suffice to determine the attitudes and beliefs of your jury pool by following the news. You will have to dive deeper. I mention this because so many attorneys that I know stay away from the world of social media other than an obligatory LinkedIn page. I am not trying to argue that every attorney should go out and get a Facebook account, but it is important to understand that it means that you are living a very different life than your typical juror in terms of information consumption.