Study calling on people who followed Falconer murder trial online

Staff ~ The New Glasgow News
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PICTOU – A local university study wants to hear from people who were glued to their computers or mobile phones during the month of January to follow the Christopher Falconer murder trial.

Dr. Margo Watt and forensic psychology students at St. Francis Xavier University are currently in the midst of collecting information from people who followed the first-degree murder trial in Pictou through social media.

“The students and I both attended the trial as much as we could over the month of January and when we couldn’t attend, we starting following it when a couple of journalists started tweeting. If felt like the next best thing to be in the courtroom so we started questioning how does a trial provided by Twitter feed change people’s perceptions of the trial or the criminal justice system? Does it make it them more engaged, does it help them understand the process better?”

Falconer was found guilty in January of first-degree murder of Amber Kirwan who went missing from downtown New Glasgow in October 2011. The month-long trial involved heightened media attention that included the use of Twitter and other social media sites so people could follow the case in real time. 

Watt said since tweeting from courtrooms is a fairly new practice, this will be the first study of its kind, although there has been lots of commentary and speculation on the relationship between the justice system and social media.

She said the study will look at the pros and cons of

social media and its involvement in the justice system, but it will also research pre-trial publicity.

“Some research has shown that the greater pre-trial publicity, the greater association with findings of guilt,” she said.

Watt added that research shows that the more exposure a person has to the criminal justice system, the more confident they are in the process, but in some other cases this has not been the situation and it has made people more skeptical of the system.

The study will also look at who was following the Falconer trial, including their sex, socio-economic situation and what type of media they used to follow trial. 

The study is anonymous and confidential and takes about 15 minutes to complete online at http://fluidsurveys.com/s/twitter-in-courtroom.

If you prefer to complete the survey using pen-and-paper rather than online, please contact Catherine Gallagher (x2008mzd@stfx.ca) to request a copy of the survey and a self-addressed envelope. Completed pen-and-paper surveys will remain completely confidential.

Organizations: St. Francis Xavier University

Geographic location: Pictou, New Glasgow

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