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Paula Deen and Trial by Twitter

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Facts and fairness are not the strong suit of social media.

And last week, Twitter and Facebook acted as judge, jury and executioner in the case of Paula Deen.

When a leaked deposition in the National Enquirer revealed Deen's admission that in her 66 years, she had sometimes used the "n word," bloggers unleashed, with unabashed glee, their simmering disdain for a woman whose Southern style of high fat and sugar cooking, and blunt honesty, offended their sensibilities.

To be clear, the "n word" is an ugly and offensive term no matter who says it, and in whatever context it is said. And the racist jokes that Deen testified that she sometimes enjoyed, are equally ugly and offensive to me, as a person as well as a comedian. But does this behavior by Deen justify being called a "racist" by breathless tweets, posts and blogs? Can someone who has used objectionable words and exhibited racially insensitive behavior get a second chance and have their apologies accepted?

We may never get answers to those important questions because the rush to judgement was so swift and merciless that Dean was fired by the Food Network, with other business dealings in jeopardy too. By the time the full transcript of her deposition testimony was released, which was less incendiary that the National Enquirer advance story indicated, the damage was done.

Her deposition comments came out of a lawsuit filed more than a year ago by a manager at the restaurant Deen owns with her brother Bubba, who is the primary target of the lawsuit for his alleged racial and sexual harassment towards the manager and other employees at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House. Paula Deen is mostly accused of allowing this behavior to occur. As in any lawsuit, the charges may be totally accurate, partially true, or there may be no grounds for a lawsuit at all. That is what our justice system is set up to address, in a deliberate fashion that produces an equitable verdict.

But justice moves too slowly for social media. Villains must be identified, attacked and destroyed in a matter of days. There is no room for caution, or asking thoughtful questions, or simply reserving judgement until all of the facts are known.

Even Paula Deen, with her disturbing use of language, which she has addressed (more candidly than most) in her memoir and her recent online videos, is entitled to her day in court, and perhaps more importantly, in the court of public opinion.

Those who are happy to bring down Paula Dean in any way they can, should know that if trial by Twitter is justified for public figures you hate, it can also be used against those personalities who share your sensibilities.