The Power of Social Media in the Trayvon Martin Case

By now, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not know the name Trayvon Martin. Yet when I first heard the name Trayvon Martin, it was not on a news site or on television. It was on Facebook.
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By now, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not know the name Trayvon Martin. By now, the tragic story of the 17-year-old's death has been splashed across newspapers and network news. Yet, it wasn't until after his family, friends and network of supporters spread the word online about his death that mainstream media, and finally, the justice system, took notice.

After protests outside the Seminole County Courthouse, complaints called into the Sanford police, and a massive online petition, Trayvon Martin's supporters could no longer be ignored. Now, three weeks later, both federal and local prosecutors are launching investigations into the shooting, and I believe it is because of the power of social media.

When I first heard the name Trayvon Martin, it was not on a news site or on television. It was on Facebook. And last night, walking up 6th Avenue with a sea of people in the Million Hoodie March, the name Trayvon Martin could be heard for blocks and blocks. Hundreds of people marched in their hoodies, chanting "We are Trayvon Martin" and holding signs calling for justice and for George Zimmerman to be arrested. Everyone was united, fighting for one cause, all because news of Martin's death went viral and people felt compelled to take action.

I believe in the concept that mainstream media is the fourth branch of government, serving as an important element in our nation's system of checks and balances. Yet sometimes the media misses the beat and fails to report on an important story like this one. Fortunately, now, through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, the public can ensure, when compelled, that no injustice goes unnoticed.

In my last post, I wrote about what I consider to be one of the worst characteristics of my generation, a sense of entitlement. Yet, marching with hundreds of people last night, I felt inspired by what I consider to be the best about my generation. We make sure our voices are heard. We grew up in the digital age and are now utilizing those tools to spread the word about causes we're passionate about, whether it be Occupy Wall Street or Trayvon Martin.

This groundswell movement surrounding the Martin case reminds me of what happened in the months after Pvt. Danny Chen killed himself in Afghanistan. The army provided little details about his death, and it wasn't until a YouTube video asking "What Happened to Private Danny Chen?" led to a buildup a pressure that, eventually, the army was compelled to disclose the constant alleged hazing Chen faced on a daily basis. Now, eight soldiers are charged in connection with his death, and I believe it was because of the public's urging that justice in that case will be carried out.

Similarly, justice in this case will hopefully be carried out, all because of the public protests. The petition to arrest George Zimmerman, as of Thursday morning, was about to hit the one million mark. People across the city Wednesday, and likely the nation, wore their hoodies to stand in solidarity with Martin's family. For those that couldn't attend Wednesday's march, supporters online have been urged to send bags of skittles to Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, as Martin had just picked up a bag of skittles and an iced tea before walking home the night he was shot.

City commissioners gave Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee a vote of no confidence Wednesday, and calls for his resignation are getting louder and louder. The Stand Your Ground law, which allows a person to use deadly force if he is in a place he has a right to be and feels reasonably threatened with serious harm, has come under serious fire in light of Martin's death.

I'm not sure what will happen with this case, whether Zimmerman will be charged with Martin's death, whether Lee will resign, whether the law will get repealed. Yet, if these things do happen, and hopefully they will, I believe it is because what started as a small movement online has now grown to a national call against injustice and racial profiling.

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