Date of Award

Summer 6-20-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

Forensic Psychology

Language

English

First Advisor

Steven Penrod

Second Reader

Jennifer Dysart

Third Advisor

Charles Stone

Abstract

In an age where more and more people are turning to social media for news information it can only be concluded that those same people are vulnerable to some type of exposure to pretrial publicity. Research has supported the idea that pretrial publicity creates premature judgments of guilt towards the accused and the more exposure a person has on a case the more strongly their opinions of guilt tend to be. Social media has quickly become a platform that users turn to receive news information, including details about cases that are in process of going to trial. Because its high popularity and frequent use, social media has come to the forefront of discussion in relation to many recent events such as the one in Charlottesville, Virginia where a group of white supremacists began a rally to protest the city’s removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. They were met with counter-protesters and soon conflict rose between the two groups. During this time a car drove into the crowd injuring nine and killing one. The defendant, James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with first-degree murder, pending trial. The current study looks at social media users’ habits and how they are related to the widespread dialogue about the Charlottesville incident. Participants were asked which social media platforms they use, how often they use them, if they were exposed to information pertaining to the event, and if they took part in spreading of the information. They were also randomly assigned to read social or traditional media coverage favorable or unfavorable to the defendant and offer judgments about the legal case. Because the James Alex Fields Jr. has not gone to trial yet it is a perfect case to study to see how social media’s role in pretrial publicity influences users’ judgment of guilt.

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