Monday, February 23, 2009, 4:44 PM

Twitter in the courtroom?

Here's an interesting report from the Associated Press that highlights the tension between the deliberative nature of the courts and the instantaneous nature of web communications. At issue is whether a federal judge in Kansas will permit a journalist to cover a trial through a wildly popular social networking website called Twitter.

For those who don't know Twitter, the site allows users to communicate instantaneously with one another through a phone or personal computer. Users post comments online of up 140 characters and "subscribe" to other users for free. They share everything from industry best practices and political commentary to reviews of local restaurants. (If you're interested, my Twitter name is @henryfawell.) The Obama Campaign has the biggest audience on Twitter, weighing in with 315,000 followers.

The debate over Twitter's use in the courtroom pits two arguments against one another: On one hand, the press' right to report on a public trial without infringement; On the other, the defense counsel's concern that the instantaneous and public nature of "tweets" could influence witnesses before they testify.

Judge Marten in Kansas is not the first to consider Twitter's place in the courtroom. (A judge in Colorado granted the use of Twitter in his courtroom last month). With more journalists and newspapers embracing Twitter for its virtues (quick, free, and popular), this debate is likely to be starring in a courtroom near you. Companies and in-house counsel would be wise to operate under the assumption that Twitter will become the rule, not the exception, in courtrooms and should adjust their communications strategies accordingly.

What do you think? Should judges allow journalists to use Twitter in the courtroom?

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