News Column

Online Crowd Weighs in on Murder Charge Against George Zimmerman in Shooting Death of Trayvon Martin

April 12, 2012

Deborah Acosta

The social media frenzy that helped to bring Trayvon Martin's story to the national stage surged again Wednesday, following the second-degree murder charge filed against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the hooded high school junior from Miami-Dade.

Immediate online reactions ranged from elation to resignation.

"THANK GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Brian Bison, a classmate and friend who knew Trayvon at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, posted on Facebook within minutes after the murder charge was made public. "Justice finally here but I still miss Tray, nothing gonna bring him back."

Ashley, 17, another friend who corresponded with Trayvon over Twitter, sent out this tweet to her 912 followers: "I'm glad some type of justice has been served but honestly nothing is ever gonna bring him back and that's what hurts the most."

The social media maelstrom surrounding Trayvon's death has become a familiar recurrence: friends and family express their condolences on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, then spreads across the Internet.

"Social media played a massive role in the explosion of this campaign," said Megan Lubin, a spokesperson for Change.org, a website that helped push the Trayvon's story to the national stage.

At a press conference following the second degree murder charge, Trayvon family attorney, Benjamin Crump, credited protestors who took to the streets and a petition created on Change.org with helping to bring the charge against Zimmerman, 28.

"It's those young people, they believe completely in the idea of justice," Crump said. "If we just stand our ground, we can make a difference."

On news websites across the nation, tens of thousands commented on stories about the case. Other online users, including some of the 8,800 sources who are part of The Miami Herald's Public Insight Network, also weighed in.

"I think the prosecutor bowed to pressure from the professional civil rights community in charging Mr. Zimmerman," Wayne Engle, 67, who's following the case from Indiana, said in response to a Herald query.

Luis Zaldivar, 67, from Miami, agreed.

"Based on what I read about the case, Mr. Zimmerman acted in self-defense and was justified in using force or a gun to protect himelf," he said in response to the query.

Others expresses concern that the second-degree murder charge will not result in justice for the Martin family.

"I think he was overcharged here, and like Casey Anthony may walk free," said Robert Jenkins, 58, from Naples, Florida. "I hope justice is truly served."

When the shooting death occurred, it was Trayvon Martin's friends who were among the first to report the death using social media.

"omg Trayvon died :(((( ," tweeted Ashley on Feb. 27, the day after his death.

On Facebook that same day, Bison posted: "R.I.P. Slimm Martin u didn't deserve to go like this."

Trayvon's younger sister Takira Martin posted at 7:47 p.m. on Feb. 27: "Eyes low red and puffy got a huge head ache and just thinking about my brother... I'm still in shock."

Despite the many posts, tweets, and retweets that friends and family were generating, Trayvon wasn't even a blip on mainstream media. News outlets did not begin reporting the story until a week later.

The petition posted March 8th on Change.org that attracted more than 2.2 million signatures was created by Kevin Cunningham, a 2009 graduate of Howard University School of Law.

"I've been in love with and fascinated by [social media] ever since the Egyptian revolution last year. It's something I'd devoted a lot of time to, and I wanted to see how it could be used as a tool for social justice," said Cunningham, 31.

Soon after, bloggers began sharing a link to the petition, and asked people to pay attention. Many directed their tweets to prominent black Americans and celebrities, asking them to spread the word, too.

"Why isn't #Trayvon a trending topic yet?" hundreds of people asked collectively on Twitter.

The week of March 12, after the Change.org petition had garnered some 15,000 signatures, staff members for the activist group asked Trayvon's parents to become the face of the campaign.

On March 14, Anderson Cooper of CNN tweeted about it to his 2.3 million followers. By then the petition had 100,000 signatures.

Two days later, the 911 tapes were released. That's when the case -- identified by #Trayvon -- exploded on Twitter and become a household topic.

"George Zimmerman is now in custody and this case is finally in the hands of our justice system," said Brenda Reynoso, 20, of Miami Springs, replying to the Miami Herald query.

"Hopefully, justice will be served for Trayvon Martin and his mourning family."

The Public Insight Network is an online community of people who have agreed to share their insights. To join, click here.



Source: (c) 2012 The Miami Herald


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