On Saturday night, July 13th, it was announced that George Zimmerman received a “not guilty” verdict after the much anticipated trial for a crime that had been heavily publicized from the start. If you are active on social media, you knew the verdict at least 24 hours ago, and you also probably know all about the Trayvon Martin shooting that occurred in late February.
This particular case created a lot of buzz from the start because of the racial aspect of the crime. Shootings happen every day, but when a Hispanic American fatally shoots an African American teenager with no explicitly obvious reason, it certainly causes a ruckus. When Zimmerman was initially released uncharged based on his explanation of self-defense, the public took to social media to express its outrage, heightening the racial angle. There were ample suggestions that Zimmerman’s crime was being ignored because Trayvon Martin was African American, and in the 6 weeks following the shooting, a media circus erupted around the scandalous news. Allegations of racist motivation for both the shooting and police conduct, along with intense media reporting, contributed to public demands for Zimmerman’s arrest.
Although it was never completely forgotten in the social-sphere, other national news incidents such as the Boston Marathon bombings took much of the media focus off of Zimmerman and Martin. However, as the official trial began June 10th, the public quickly took to social media again, looking for peeks into the courtroom and opportunities to re-state their opinions. Although much of the initial social buzz was against Zimmerman, there was a substantial amount of support behind him on social media over the last month as the trial progressed. Some felt that race was the most important aspect of the case, while others expressed belief in Zimmerman’s story of self-defense, saying the racial component had been blown out of proportion by the public.
One of the most interesting facts of this trial for me was that ‘race relations’ was banned from discussion in the courtroom, yet it dominated the discussion online. A lot of people who only followed the story on social media without doing their own separate research could have easily accepted the picture painting Zimmerman as a racist monster, without being aware of all the details. In the courtroom, it didn’t come down to whether or not George Zimmerman was racist, or whether race had played any part in the crime – it came down to whether or not the jury believed Zimmerman was legitimately acting in self-defense. However, the non-guilty plea once again caused an eruption of posts on social media, some in support of Zimmerman, but most notably were expressions of outrage and disbelief, again focused on the race card. Reports say now that Zimmerman is so afraid for his life, he is walking around with a bulletproof vest as people are literally taking to the streets protesting “No Justice for Trayvon Martin.”
Whatever your belief is regarding the outcome of the trial, it was very interesting for me to see the power social media has to define a situation in the public eye, and in some cases, skew the truth to a very dangerous level.