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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Race and Online Deliberation

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on and intensifies, courts around the country are moving toward reopening in fits and starts, with distancing, temperature checks, masks, and hand sanitizer. Some courts are also exploring distanced alternatives, including in some cases trial by Zoom, or by other web-conferencing tools that allow jurors to stay home. Including jury deliberations is “the final yard” in this transition, with some courts using the technology only for jury selection, while others are exploring deliberations as part of demonstrations or actual online trials.

If courts continue to move in this direction, what differences can we expect in deliberations? Will the medium of communication — in person or online — lead to differences in who participates? Discussions of online jury representativeness have focused on access to technology and to internet connections, and how they can be addressed (for example, by providing technology access in private rooms of courthouses or libraries). But what if the medium itself also causes differences in access? A large scale research project comparing in-person to online deliberations (Showers, Tindall, & Davies, 2015) was conducted five years ago, but now has new relevance. A team of Stanford researchers looked for demographic differences in comparing quality of participation across the deliberation styles, and while they found no significant differences based on gender, age or education, they did see a difference based on race. Online deliberation led to reduced black participation and increased white participation.

Showers, E., Tindall, N., & Davies, T. (2015, August). Equality of participation online versus face to face: condensed analysis of the community forum deliberative methods demonstration. In International Conference on Electronic Participation (pp. 53-67). Springer, Cham.