Weeks before he was even arrested, George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, had long been on trial in the court of public opinion. Activists spoke out on behalf of Martin and his parents, garnering the support of millions via twitter and the website Change.org. Now, as the case moves forward into a true trial, Zimmerman’s lawyers hope to reverse the negative sentiment that has spread across the internet, using similar tactics with social media.
Traditionally, prosecutors are unable to participate in social media discussions, but defense attorneys are allowed full reign. In a case with as high a profile as this one, the defense may have a large advantage, by making Zimmerman’s stance widely available to the public. Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, and his associates would be able to actively spin discussion topics in favor of Zimmerman, potentially making jury selection even more difficult in a case that already has such widespread exposure.
On GZlegalCase.com, Zimmerman’s representatives have already laid out multiple posts explaining the use of social media, and the goals they hope to achieve through the medium. The site also claims that it will “Not comment on the character of Trayvon Martin, his family or his supporters,” and abstain from commenting on any evidence submitted in the case. So far the website has done little to address the more offensive allegations against Zimmerman, but maintains that it seeks to discourage public speculation on the facts in the case.
The advent of social networks has made it increasingly easy not only to spread a story or idea, but also to immediately gauge the reaction of the public. With the amazing amount of press flowing through all media during March and April, people everywhere were forming opinions, and perhaps more importantly, these opinions were made public via social media forums.
The first story made available was that of Martin’s parents, seeking justice in the death of their son. As the scenario was further explained and details continued to emerge, Zimmerman was painted as a racist who sought to abuse power, having gunned down Martin in cold blood. Regardless of whether or not this portrayal of Zimmerman was accurate, the explosive spread of information, along with the gunman’s continued silence, damaged any positive perceptions he could have hoped for long before he stood in front of a judge.
At the very least, the establishment of Zimmerman’s blog will put an end to the fraudulent websites claiming to be representing or supporting Zimmerman’s defense.
It remains to be seen if the use of social media will prove effective as a legal tactic when the damage has already been done.