New Twitter study examines role of social media in Chris Falconer trial

HALIFAX – It was a murder trial that captivated the entire province.

The trial of Chris Falconer, convicted of the 2011 murder of Amber Kirwan had lines of curious residents waiting hours to get a seat in the court room. But there were hundreds more who couldn’t get into the courtroom or who weren’t in Antigonish for the proceedings, so those hundreds, if not thousands, of people followed along with the case on Twitter. In fact, the Falconer trial was one of the first in Nova Scotia to allow reporters with accredited news outlets to tweet from inside the courtroom.
“People really felt engaged with this trial in a way that seemed to go beyond its high profile status,” says Dr. Margo Watt, a psychology professor at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Dr. Watt had an interest in the Falconer trial from the moment it began, even writing a book about the convicted murderer.
Watt launched a study in the spring of 2014 examining the role social media played in the case.
She says the response was overwhelming – with hundreds taking part.

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“If you were not in the court, the next best thing is to follow it by Twitter,” she says. “We had respondents from every province, the territories and three countries outside of Canada which suggests the reach of Twitter.”

The study found those who used Twitter to follow the Falconer proceedings felt more engaged, informed, and had a better understanding of the legal process.

“They were mainly women- 80-82% women. The age range was interesting, everything from 16 to 77 years,” says Watt.

Watt says the study found that people who used Twitter more were more apt to have questions about the case and the outcome.

“The higher Twitter users were less convinced by the evidence,” she says. “They found the evidence less compelling than the others. They weren’t so convinced of the verdicts. They weren’t convinced that the verdict was accurate.”

Catherine Gallagher was a participant and says the experience was valuable.

“It was such an amazing experience,” she says. “It is like a one-of-a-kind study, so it was really neat to be able to sift through findings and see what we know, and really kind of the more we looked at the results and realize there’s a lot more questions to be asked here,” she adds.

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