Public Opinion: Trial by Ordeal in the Modern Age

Answer TimeWell, what did you say? I imagine you said something like

Murderers Allowed To Go Free

Failures of the U.S. Justice System

Indicators Racism Isn’t Dead



However true the above statements are – and I’m not going to tackle them right now – I submit to you that they are all examples of a modern version of Trial by Ordeal:


Trail by Public Opinion

Trial by public opinion takes place in a multitude of venues: Facebook, Twitter, BuzzFeed, Reddit, Gawker, and countless other media and media-so-called sites. Everyone has an opinion: some defend, others destroy, and a few declare neutrality. These opinions are shared, retweeted, and linked for all the world to see, hear, and comment.

punishment stocks
Ye Olde Interwebs

Some very interesting things seem to happen during this ordeal, namely:

Public OpinionThousands – if not millions – of people miraculously and instantaneously receive a complete understanding of the law in question. This inerrant knowledge allows them to correctly interpret every nuance of every sentence uttered during the proceedings.

Telepathy becomes the norm. How else can commentators know the intent of the accused, the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the media pundits? It’s only logical . . .

The problem is that no-one has a chance of enduring the ordeal unscathed. Anyone undergoing this ordeal can just about assume that life as they know it is over. It won’t matter what the legal outcome is; society has already made up it’s mind. Care to guess what verdict the Court of Public Opinion returns most often?


Little Caesars Mascot
Not the mascot you were looking for?

I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be informed.

We should.

I’m not arguing that the judicial system works.

It doesn’t.

I’m not debating the guilt or innocence of the aforementioned examples.

It’s not my job.

I am asking the we stop acting like judge, jury, and proverbial executioner.

I’m asking for reasoned dialogue instead of mob rule.

I’m asking for civility.

Is that too much to ask?


It appears so. A cursory glance through the comments section of any article related to my examples makes it clear:


Agree with Public Opinion or Suffer Guilt by Association


I think I’d much rather take my chances with the Middle Ages . . .

medieval doctor plague mask
Bring out your Guilty!


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