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The world was shaken by the death of a 17-year-old African American boy from Florida after an encounter with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman. It wasn’t until three days later that Trayvon Martin’s parents were notified about their son’s death and eight weeks later that the world was informed.
Social media played a significant role in spreading awareness of the Martin story. The use of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites reflected their growing influence.
Martin’s image posted on the Internet sparked a nationwide strike against the Sanford Police Department’s handling of the case. Teenagers began to imitate Martin’s appearance from the night he died: a classic black hoodie along with an iced tea and bag of Skittles in his pocket.
The Martin case was reminiscent of a 2008 incident when a 2-year-old from Orlando, Fla., went missing. The same year, her body was found in a duct-taped trash bag In 2010, the nation became enlightened about the death of Caylee Anthony. Her mother, Casey, became a household name thanks to social media.
Although the Casey Anthony case became known as the first social media trial, the Trayvon Martin case has become the remix. Defenders of Martin have used social media to promote the case, their opinions and information about the case.
“For those criticizing us for bringing the media in, they are exactly correct,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said Thursday at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans. “Many other people, including CNN, have done the same to cases so what makes us different?”
Sabrina Martin, mother of Trayvon Martin, told the audience that social media has put a negative spin on her son’s case. People have used social media, she said, to release Martin’s school records and details of what some call a “bad side” to Martin. Social media sites have also criticized Martin’s parents for selectively photos of their son in which he appears younger.
A panel of top journalists who have followed the Martin case talked about the role of social media. Most said that without social media, America would have not known about this case. However, the panelists agreed that the media has distorted the facts of the case.
“The media is creating little detectives,” said Joy-Ann Reid, managing editor of TheGrio.com. “All people feel that they can solve this case or that they are invested in finding out what happened, and it’s helping for people to form their own conclusions.”