I started to engage with the digital world in a big way when I became the proud owner of an iPad 18 months ago. I used to browse the internet, but in a detached way. When I got my iPad, it changed my relationship with the internet. Being able to read what I want on the go has really increased my internet use, which went up another few notches when I got my iPhone last year.
I have two teenage children who decided that I really needed to get “with the programme”, so in my absence they cooked up a plan to open a Twitter account for me. Being able to access Twitter on my iPhone and my iPad when in a Wi-Fi zone changed my relationship with social media. Instead of being fearful, I began to find it exciting.
When I started on Twitter fear was the primary emotion. I felt I would be exposing myself in a way that I hadn’t done before. I tried to send a personal message to one of my friends. Thankfully, I’m quite discreet with my messages as the tweet ended up being sent to everyone instead. Another friend saw it and told me about how to send a direct message. I had no clue what the rules were. I hadn’t had any training but I’m also cautious by nature, which is why I have stayed within safe bounds but that does mean I haven’t used social media as much as I probably would do, if I had more confidence.
I am now taking steps to change that situation. I have started working with a consultant on social media engagement. At the moment there is a photo of me encased in a shadow on my Twitter account. Those who know me know it’s me, but others may see it as art. I have a bit more information about who I am on my Twitter profile, and I now want to use it more professionally to comment on areas such as social justice, the feminist movement, domestic violence and other topics I’m interested in.
I recently set up other social media accounts, including Flickr, Vimeo, Soundcloud (as I intend to do some podcasts) and YouTube. I also have a Facebook page. I keep getting invitations that I just ignore because I don’t know what to do with them, yet. I feel like an infant in the social media world, but with continued tutorials with the person I’m working with, I hope to graduate into a responsible cyber literate teenager.
As a lawyer working on high profile cases, it is important that the personal doesn’t seep into the professional sphere, which is one of the reasons why I joined the social media party so late. It is about knowing what I can and can’t say publicly with regards to the cases I work on.
It feels like I’m entering a new phase on my online journey and I’m seeing how social media is useful in campaigning. The Save Legal Aid campaign has been amazing. Supporters were encouraged to do selfies and post them. It went beyond London and was national and international, cutting across age, class and gender. My children and their friends held a banner and took selfies, and many young people went onto Twitter to say that they wanted to play their part and save legal aid.
Social media can be used positively as an agent for change. Change.org has been influential on this front. Its role in reversing the death sentence on the Sudanese Christian woman Meriam Ibrahim and enabling the family of Cherry Groce to secure legal aid, by bringing this case to the forefront of people’s minds, are both examples of this.
It has also been a great way of finding out more about people who interest me. I was listening to Classic FM the other day and heard a female presenter with an intriguing voice. I looked her up on Twitter and realised that she was a woman of colour, Margherita Taylor (@MargheritaT). After that I started following her on Twitter. I don’t follow many lawyers but the few I do include Matthew Ryder (@rydermc), Hugh Southey (@HughSoutheyQC) and Philip Dayle (@phildayle72). Philip was the one who urged me to open a Twitter account. He should be relieved now. I also have an interest in children’s literature and follow @malorieblackman, who my children love.
Over the next six months I plan to participate more on social media and contribute to the social justice debate, including issues around deaths in custody. If everything goes according to plan, I will know I’m feeling digitally confident when I have a real picture of myself on Twitter. We’ll see.
Marcia Willis-Stewart was interviewed by Joy Francis, co-founder of Digital Women UK.
Picture credit: Sarah Booker at www.bookerphotos.com
About the author
Marcia Willis Stewart QC (Hon), is an award-winning civil rights lawyer and a partner at the renowned Birnberg Peirce & Partners law firm. Willis Stewart has championed legal aid and has represented families in challenging and high profile cases against the state. She acted for the family of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by police in 2005, and represented the family at the inquest into the 2011 police shooting of Mark Duggan. More recently, Willis Stewart was the lead lawyer for the legal team acting on behalf of 77 of the 96 families of the deceased at the Hillsborough Inquests, and helped to secure justice when it was ruled that the 96 victims were unlawfully killed. Her sterling work has been recognised with numerous awards, including Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group Public Law Solicitor of the Year 2015, joint winner of the prestigious Rule of Law award at the Halsbury Awards 2017, the Football Black List 2017 Commercial Award and Legal Personality of the Year, the Solicitors Journal Awards 2017. Willis Stewart was also made an honorary Queen’s Counsel in January 2017 and is Chair of the Synergi Collaborative Centre on severe mental illness, ethnic inequalities and multiple disadvange.As well as her legal career, Marcia gives her time to the voluntary sector, with a particular focus on organisations working to prevent domestic abuse and for the progression of equality and opportunities for women, girls and the LGBT community.
You can follow Marcia on Twitter: @MWillisStewart