Case study: social media and justice

The title might be a bit of a red herring actually, but I am a bit stuck as to what to call this post.

The challenge

A great friend of mine, Tom Cholmondeley, is imprisoned in Kamiti jail in Nairobi. His friends around the world were frustrated by an inability to get news of his welfare, other than through getting in touch with his – already frustrated – mother, Lady Delamere and girlfriend, Sally Dudmesh. Out of consideration most people left them alone, which caused a sense of isolation and more importantly, robbed Tom of the messages of support and good wishes that might help cheer him through his darkest days.

The solution

I spoke to Sally about how I might be able to help, and we decided that a website which gave Tom a voice and people an opportunity to get messages to him through the site would be a good idea. We came up with a plan using the following as our guideline:

  • To give a voice to Tom and those who know and love him
  • To publicise what is happening in the trial and Kamiti jail
  • To give hope and information to those concerned about Tom and his welfare

Using WordPress, I created a very basic site www.justicefortom.com that enabled Lady Delamere and Sally to post up their latest news of Tom, including details of visits, Tom occasionally sends messages through his mother when she visits him, friends and family could leave messages for Tom and/or his family and Sally or Lady D print and take the comments from the site to Tom.

Understandably there were nerves around publicising what was happening in the trial, so we asked Tom’s lawyer to draft a precis of the trial for the site, and we limit comments on trial days to ‘a mother’s view’, where Lady D just explains how Tom is, looks and feels. We do not post any personal opinions on what is being debated in court.

Team Tom is made up of Lady Delamere, Sally, some close friends of Tom who visit him and myself.

The result

We started receiving comments to the site straight away.

  • Friends old and new used it as a personal channel to Tom which made a huge difference to how everyone felt, not least of whom being Tom.
  • Lady Delamere and Sally had an avenue to update everyone on what was happening and so felt more supported.
  • People who read pieces in the press were being directed to it and were able to post their own opinions – some not in line with the feelings of the family – but enabled the family to respond to criticism or mis-conception.

Very quickly it got Press attention and was linked to by the Sunday Times and Channel 4. Most recently we received the following message from the BBC:

I realise this is not the best moment to send you a message, given that you will all no doubt be completely focused on the upcoming court date. But I wonder whether it might be a request you could think over at a more convenient time.

I develop documentaries for the BBC, and would be very interested in trying to make a film with Tom, and the Justice for Tom group.

This would not be a news report, but a long form 60-minute film in which we could communicate more fully what this experience has been like for all of you.

As I said, I realise this will not be something you’ll want to think about right now. But I would really appreciate it if you could give it some thought at an appropriate time for you. For the moment, really, I would value the opportunity just of establishing contact with a view perhaps of discussing the idea at a later date.

I believe that it has achieved everything that we wanted it to.

Note: I was especially touched when a great and talented friend of mine: Dave Briggs – who does not know Tom – offered to weave his magic on the site and give us a new look that helped people use it more easily. I think it looks amazing and you can now see it – the site you are looking at is a professional version of my amateur effort, as from 17th March 2008.

Ponderings

I believe that in this day and age of information availability, (both online and off: through social media and the Freedom of Information Act), everyone can benefit from using the right tools in the right way. This is just one example of how it has worked very well. I would love to hear of others, and I also wonder how sites like these will start to play a part in ensuring justice is done – with a jury of peers that are unselected.

11 responses

  1. I have visited this site on many an occasion now but this post is the 1st one that I have ever commented on.

    Congratulations on such a fine article and site I have found it very helpful and informative – I only wish that there were more out there like this one.

    I never leave empty handed, sometimes I may even be a little disappointed that I may not agree with a post or reply that has been made. But hey! that is life and if every one agreed on the same thing what a boring old world we would live in.

    Keep up the good work and cheers.

  2. I think what’s great about your work is that you haven’t built ‘another campaign site” (not that there’s anythjing wrong with campaigns – more the better I say). What is remarkable is that you’ve let the issues and the campaign emerge from stories. By simply empowering Tom and his family, friends to tell their stories – and incidentally now you tell yours – you’ve made it real, offered a way for people to connect at a human level first and then a righteous indignation, politico, legal, global level. I’m alway rattling on about getting back to what we humans do best – telling stories and letting the light come on in our eyes with passion and letting that make the connections that can then lead to campaigning, fundraising or revolutionary relationships. Now I’ve got another story to tell. Tom’s lucky to have a friend like you because it’s that friendship that drives this along. heh even the BBC spotted it… not the campaign, the relationships.

  3. I think you are right, Paul. The human element of the site is what makes it so lovely. Peoples’ stories that they post for Tom, Lady Delamere’s natural motherly concerns.

    Thank you as well for being so kind – cor I LOVE Mondays

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  6. Hi Emma,

    I think Tom’s website is great and powerful in all the ways described in the comments above. And I think you are so great to have set it up and to manage it. My only only suggestion is that the messages ( for instance only the most recent) left for Tom by his friends and people are more visible on the home page as I really believe they send a strong signal and message – to the world- of the support and belief in Tom….and people logging onto the website should see that striaght away…..?!!

  7. Pingback: Update to the case study on social media and justice « Emma Mulqueeny

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