Facebook May Prevent Accused Killer From Getting Fair Trial

On September 28, the body of ABC employee Jill Meagher was discovered near Melbourne, Australia. The 29-year-old had been missing for six days, and an extensive search and police investigation was underway. After she was found, her husband acknowledged the role social media -- including a Facebook page titled “Help us find Jill Meagher,” which attracted more than 120,000 likes -- had likely played in the case: "We believe that it has helped us to reach a conclusion, although it is not the one we had hoped and prayed for."

Oddly enough, it's the same social media involvement that may jeopardize the case against her accused killer, Adrian Ernest Bayley. Bayley has been charged with raping and murdering Meagher, and as he awaits trial, hate sites calling for his "public hanging" have been posted on Facebook.

So, is a hate site against an accused murderer fair game? Or is it as the police describe: "(the public) taking justice into their own hands"?

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The social media outcry against Adrian Ernest Bayley has been fierce, with multiple sites popping up on Facebook like this one, which is titled "Publicly hang Adrian Ernest Bayley." Police agree that the social media campaign to find Meagher likely helped the case, but they're now concerned that the backlash against Bayley will cause any forthcoming trial to be prejudiced:

Though social media's been enormously helpful in this investigation, it's also been very, very difficult and we had cause to speak to Facebook over the weekend and ask them to take a particular site down. (...) We’ve got to remember that no matter how horrible this crime is, this gentleman has got to be afforded a fair trial. It’s not for Facebook pages or anyone else to be taking justice into their own hands.

Police spent days trying to convince Facebook to remove the offending websites, some of which included posts that encouraged violence and shared details about Bayley's background. Initially, Facebook refused the requests, which irritated the police:

We’ve all got a social responsibility. Facebook is part of our community and I would have thought that it would have only been reasonable.

As of yesterday, the social media giant had agreed to take down at least a few of the pages, although some apparently remain.

It all raises some very interesting issues about the role social media plays in criminal justice and whether or not a page on Facebook is really any different from water-cooler gossip. If the man hadn't been accused of a crime, we'd likely call it bullying -- but the fact that he's been charged with rape and murder makes it pretty difficult to feel sorry for him.

The fact that Bayley's not due to reappear in court until mid-January likely has had a galvanizing effect on the anger unleashed online. After so much effort to find her, it was surely devastating to the entire community when she was found to be the victim of such a brutal crime. People want justice today, not five months from now.

Still, the man is innocent until proven guilty, and perhaps that alone should protect him from hateful commentary online. Meagher's grieving husband also points out that the responses have the potential to derail Bayley's eventual trial:

While I really appreciate all the support, I just would like to mention that negative comments in social media may hurt legal proceedings, so please be mindful of that.

Do you think Facebook should take down pages with hateful comments against Adrian Bayley? Do you think it's morally wrong that they exist in the first place?


Image via Facebook

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