Update to the case study on social media and justice

As I said in my first post about this: the title is a bit wrong, but I am still unsure what to call it.

However, I thought that I would just write an update on how the community has built around the website www.justicefortom.com.

As you may have read in the news, Tom Cholmondeley – my mate – has now been charged with manslaughter and sentenced to the three years he has already served plus eight months in prison. Regardless of your own opinion on the case, or Tom, you might be interested in how the simplest of WordPress sites has developed and been a focus point for an incredibly diverse, worldwide community. (Please read the first post to see how it started.)

The people who comment on the site are:

  • Tom’s mother: Lady Delamere
  • Tom’s relatives
  • Tom’s friends and family
  • Old school mates
  • Friends from years ago
  • People who may have met Tom once but have vivid memories of doing so
  • Other prisoners in Kamiti
  • Prisoners who were in Kamiti with Tom, but have left
  • Prison officers from Kamiti
  • Lawyers from around the world who have read/watched the case
  • Press
  • Kikuyu and Maasai tribesmen (one of whom sends messages from his mobile whilst tending his cattle and working)

Many messages come in from around the world after people read an article, or see something on TV and are compelled to reach out to Tom.

Of course there are the death threats, and thundering fury from those who feel strongly against Tom. About 1% of the comments we receive are like this – they are not published or responded to – but referred on to Tom’s lawyer. They are not published – not because there is any trickery, or want to hide the other side of things; but the site is very clear about what and who it is for, and to publish such comments would incite argument and inappropriate content that would/could get out of control.

We do not respond (generally) to comments posted, rather leaving them for other commentors to respond to if they like – for example, lawyers debate issues with each other on there: and provide advice to Fred (not sure how grateful he is but… !!!)

The reason we don’t respond is that the site is a conduit mainly to Tom, and most messages are written as messages directly to him – and are sometimes personal: family news, good memories, bad, pleas to stay sane and so on. If the website suddenly had its own voice, it would lose the feeling of being a direct line to Tom.

The stories and observations around the case and Kenya detailed in the comments have begin to weave a story about a conflicted country – told by those in it, outside it – based around a high profile case that has *possibly* exposed a stumbling justice system.

Tom

Very occasionally they can get online access in Kamiti, it is random! Hence the occasional emails from other prisoners. And sometimes Tom can actually get to see the site and the messages in context – as opposed to printed and given to him. It gives him great focus, and of course news from his friends and family touch him hugely. Stories from other people inspire him and he gets huge strength from the connection made.

Again, regardless of your thoughts on him as a man, his guilt or otherwise – life in Kamiti is grim; I have been there several times and won’t go into details – not actually sure whether I am allowed to – taking photos – even of the outside of Kamiti is an arrestable offence. But there is some stuff on YouTube that is already out there so, here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamiti_Maximum_Security_Prison;

http://kenya740.tripod.com/kamiti.html;

http://www.africanews.com/site/Kenya_Kamiti_Prison_water_issue_half_solved/list_messages/21396;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-kQ27JPZjU

Back to the website

I watch it create its own magic space – simply moderating comments and updating posts as news comes in. It fascinates me, and I am sure that if I were not quite so close to it, it would be a very good study in something.

Anyhow! Thought I would share that.

Oh, and Tom’s case is aired on More4 tonight 19th May 2009 at 10pm if your curiosity is piqued about the people involved.

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