By Muiz Manire, SAN
Just like the industrial revolution disrupted social relations in the 18th Century, technological advancements have continued unabatedly to effect landmark changes in the ways things are done. In fact, in recent times, so many new normals have developed to the extent that they are now indeterminable. One more recent contribution to human development is the Internet, which has given birth to several other wonderful uses by which human communications have become faster, rendering as outdated the traditional means of communication and news reportage. Today, the postal agencies have almost run out of business, becoming redundant, and hardly would the youths of today know what we used to experience in sending messages and letters in the olden days when a letter to a relative in spaces less than 100 kilometres would take days, if not months, to be delivered. At times, such letters would even get lost in transit and their owners might not get them forever. There were letters that were not delivered for more than a hundred years only for them to surface when the owners had died. Many lovers were separated as a result of inability to communicate.
All this the Internet has resolved with mouth-gaping impacts as messages could be delivered in less than one minute between two or more persons in distances running into thousands of miles. Two or more discussants can even discuss or hold meetings now while looking at one another as if they were physically present. A great contributor to human interaction and communication is social media. This has been described by a digital platform called WhatIs.com as “a collective term for websites and applications that focus on communication, community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration”. Some popular examples include Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Telegram and Linkedln. In another way, according to Maya Dollarhide in “Social Media: Definition, Effects and List of Top Apps,” published at https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/social-media.asp accessed on 26/0/2023, “Social media is a digital technology that facilitates the sharing of text and multimedia through virtual networks and communities. More than 4.7 billion people around the world use social media. In 2022, the number of social media users worldwide grew by 137 million, or about 3%.
Some judges even create their own evidence different from what was adduced in court by the parties. Some judges have become victims of cyberbullying that they want to be in the good book of rampaging social media goons and only listen to what the mob is saying on the social media in order to decide where the scale of justice would tilt. Dispensing justice is a godly attribute and duty that social media marketplace narratives should not be a basis for its exercise. Judges are required to carry out their duties without fear or favour and this is contained in the oath they take during swearing-in ceremonies.
They are representatives of God on earth that should do the utmost to ensure that the innocent is not unjustly punished. This brings to the fore the need to regulate use of social media by judges. According to the authors of an article titled “Use of Social Media by Judges – Discussion Guide for the Expert Group Meeting (5-7 November 2018, Vienna)” published at https://www.venice.coe.int/files/un_social_media/unodc.pdf, “given the nature of judicial office, the use of social media by judges raises specific questions that should be addressed. This is because the way judges use social media may have an impact on the public’s perception of judges and confidence in the judicial systems and can potentially lead to situations where judges are seen as biased or subject to outside influences. In addition, the use of social media also poses potential threats to judges’ privacy, safety and may place judges under attack of negative comments and cyberbullying.” It is due to the above that the 2002 Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, have been developed to regulate how judges use and the extent they can interact with social media.
This shall be critically examined at another time but suffices to say that judges are required to “have regard to the values of independence, impartiality, integrity and propriety” while carrying out their constitutional duties. While it is true that judges “should not be isolated from society and should strive to create an environment of open justice”, it is also the case that they cannot afford to have negative perceptions destroy the image of independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, competence, diligence and uprightness by which alone the public can invest its confidence in them.