Social Networking Effects on the Trayvon Martin Case

By Stephanie Lopez

Social networking has paved the way for a whole new phenomenon in the recent world of mass communication and media. Some argue that social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, have corrupted the ways of communication. Others say that websites such as those just stated have undeniably helped in the way information is spread and makes social contact much easier than it was in the past. There is no denying that both parties have valid points, but it is important to see each point through different perspectives. One way to do so is to take into consideration how social networking has affected recent or current events around the world. One major incident that was extremely popular and talked about throughout social media was the murder of Trayvon Martin. Martin’s death sparked nationwide outrage and social networking may have been vital in contributing to the outcome of the case. Our recent generation has founded many ways to benefit from social networking and the death of Trayvon Martin provided an eye-opening realization that social networking on the Internet can be so much more than meets the eye; it is a new branch of mass communication and a major step forward for an age of gaining information and knowledge through novel endeavors.
Mass media affects the public in innumerable ways. Research, such as those conducted from the Payne Fund studies, shows that each type of media has some sort of effect and these
influences all contribute to social science perspectives (Rodman, 2012, p. 42). One of the most common sensations of the Internet has been social networking websites. These sites aim to connect people from faraway places and serve as platforms for sharing information. Different types of theories that have taken shape from the media effects include those that state that mass media influences that you think about and perceive as any kind of importance or relevance in life. Social networking makes a major contribution to this theory as we are shown what people we associate ourselves with find important as well. The February 2012 murder of then 17-year-old Trayvon Martin sparked a major outcry amongst the Internet, especially social network websites. People from all across the country tried having their voices heard about their opinions on the matter of the neighborhood watch guard in Miami fatally shooting the unarmed teenager as he was walking home one evening. Lawyers on both side of the case stated that social media left a great impact on the situation (Whaley, 2013). According to the New York Times, Mark O’Mara, the legal defender of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, was left to embrace the Internet as a first step in the trial (Alvarez, 2012). O’Mara thought it was necessary to set up his own legal defense web site, a Twitter page, and Facebook account to counter what was soon to be the misinformation that people on the Internet were about to spread about the case and Zimmerman. Soon, many other sites were made in response and a new age of social media movements was born.
Trayvon Martin’s case resonated with the whole country as it was tragic and possibly even relatable in the sense of igniting a flame consisting of race relations. A majority of the country was interested in the case as it showed whether or not America fulfilled the promise of equal justice for everyone. People affected by the case sought out for justice and action in their own ways through social media. Petitions were made on websites such as MoveOn.org and Change.org and spread throughout community sites. Trayvon Martin’s parents even embraced the Internet as they created a petition for the prosecution of George Zimmerman. Over 2.1 million signatures were given to the parents of the slain as it was rapidly spread around Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts and more than 1,000 signings per minute at the petition’s most viral (Gray, 2012). Many argue that if this case had happened ten years ago or twenty years ago, people would have read about it in the newspaper or heard it on the news, then immediately have forgotten about it. Social networking has given incidents like these a new life as attention is drawn and people are more likely to get their voices heard to incite action against injustice.
On the other hand, there are skeptical individuals that believe this type of attention for cases like Martin’s are unnecessary and people’s actions around the country to prosecute those they find guilty are lethargic. A term to describe it would be “slacktivism” as no real action is being done and all of it is from behind a computer screen. One click of a button or typing of your name to submit to an online petition can be seen as lazy and lacks the true potential to empower voices that need to get their words heard (Martin, 2012). Some argue that it does nothing in the long term. A different route can be taken to really fulfill the change people are yearning for in issues like these and social networking is seen as a cop out to some. The sharing of information on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman might have triggered heated debate about racial issues and social injustice across the nation, but do these petitions and pleas made by random people on the Internet genuinely make a difference in the long run (Yoon, 2012)?
While these movements display the broad influence of social media on millions of social networkers around the country, people believe they’re still lacking in depth and do not have the ability to change people’s minds on the issues or alter the outcome of the murder trial. Like the minimal-effects model of media theory states, media may have little influence on behavior (Rodman, 2012, p. 39). It can also be said that people’s attitudes and beliefs do not change just because of what they see on the Internet, such as articles on Trayvon Martin’s case linked on somebody’s Facebook profile. People will believe what they want and filter out whatever may disagree with them. In this case, it would not change a racist’s mind to hear that Martin was only an unarmed teenager put into a chilling situation. They would see that Martin was African American and immediately jump to the other side’s defense. Petitions trying to prosecute George Zimmerman may have accumulated more than millions of signatures, but the fact of the matter is that Zimmerman was acquitted of any charges. It is hard to dismiss the acts of people that have good intentions, but it is important to ponder on whether or not these actions really result in anything useful or even what the creators of these movements were originally aiming for.
Researching the case led to a few personal revelations on the effects of social networking and the new ways in which the Internet have cultivated mass communication and awareness of the world and its events. The argument of whether or not social networking has a positive or negative effect on the influence of people’s attitudes over cases such as Trayvon Martin’s seems to be one dispute that will not be put out for a long time, or as long as the Internet is still as relevant to everyday life as it is in modern times. Personally, I believe that both positions on the argument are correct, but I am leaning more towards the positive effects side. People may just pretend to care about an issue because it is the “cool” thing to do, but I believe that raising the awareness of issues that are still prevalent to this day is more important than filtering out the people that do not truly care. What motivates individuals is hard to define and is not the same for everyone. Because of this, it is of great import to provide the public with as much valid information as possible so we can formulate our own opinions on matters that do or do not directly affect us, but are still pertinent to the world we live in.
In conclusion, social networking on the Internet has a mixed set of influences on the public. Some may believe that raising awareness of cases like the 2012 Trayvon Martin trial is inessential, while others believe social networking has helped spark major movements over issues necessary to advance our society to its full potential. Either way, it is crucial to find a fine balance between the two and embrace the resources we have been given as a branch of mass communication.

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