Is Live-Tweeting During Murder Trials A Good Idea?

On July 22, 2011 Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people in Norway. We can say that he murdered them as he doesn’t deny it – though he does claim it was self-defense, according to the many sites reporting on his trial that started today. We also know that he plans to read a 30 minute statement explaining this “self-defense” assertion tomorrow. We can read about it at the end of the day tomorrow or we can follow one of the journalists live-tweeting from the courtroom.

But is that level of detail really necessary?

Murderers love the spotlight, particularly mass murderers. Examples are abundant online, but even if they weren’t, we know that Anders Behring Breivik loves it. This photo, from The Guardian’s blog covering the story, shows Breivik saluting as he entered the courtroom today:


And if that photo isn’t enough to convince you, Diana Magnay, international correspondent from CNN Berlin, offers this insight from her Twitter (she’s live-tweeting from the courtroom), noting Breivik’s psychiatric-confirmed narcissism:

But doesn’t live-tweeting feed into it? Or does the whole courtroom experience do that on its own?

More disturbing though and of greater concern are the victims and their families. The Guardian’s live blog as well as other sites are racing to post every gory detail first. One tidbit gleaned from today’s post is interesting:

One of Norway’s major newspapers, Dagbladet, has set up a version of its website with a button that removes any mention of the trial. It is an acknowledgement that there is a degree of revulsion at the level of coverage it will get and the prospect of Breivik getting a platform from which to air his ideology.

So those affected by this mass murderer are repulsed by the level of coverage he will receive, yet live-tweeting is still a good idea? Hmm. Helen Pidd, The Guardian reporter who is live-tweeting at the trial has received some flack for it so far.


She shares that she spoke with two victims that support “comprehensive reporting” of the trial. Makes one wonder what the families of the 77 killed think of such comprehensive reporting though?


There appears to be a strong sentiment out there in support of journalists tweeting from court. According to a post titled “Yes, you can tweet from court responsibly,”

The question is not whether we should use Twitter, but how to use Twitter and on what elements of a story. Journalists need to apply the same standards when tweeting from a trial that we would use in any other form of telling what is happening. It may be extreme short-form journalism, but it is journalism.

But it can also be dangerous – we mustn’t overlook that. Take, for example, the mistrial that happened in Kansas last week because a reporter mistakenly tweeted a photo of a juror. Was that journalism? And aren’t other live-tweeting mishaps just waiting to happen?

I’m not sure that the public’s need for news outweighs victims,  their families, heck even defendants’ right to a fair trial. But what do you think?

(Spotlight image from Shutterstock and Photograph of Breivik saluting from Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images)

@MaryCLong Mary C. Long is Chief Ghost at Digital Media Ghost. She writes about everything online and is published widely, with a focus on privacy concerns, specifically social sabotage.