A month ago only a handful of people--family, friends, classmates, etc.--knew Trayvon Martin. Today, President Obama and millions of other people know his name and his story. And social media has undoubtedly played an instrumental role in drawing the much needed attention to this tragic event.
On February 26th, 2012, Trayvon Martin walked to a convenience store near his father's gated community for some Skittles and a can of iced tea. Apparently, this seemed like suspicious activity to George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who followed the unarmed 17-year-old, confronted him, and fatally shot him.
Ten years ago we might have caught wind of a story like Trayvon's from a newspaper article or an evening news segment. We would have felt sad, but then we would probably move on. These days, however, with social media at our finger tips, we can easily express and share our feelings about tragedies like this. Furthermore, we can generate awareness and support. In the case of Trayvon, this came in the form 1.5 million people signing a petition for the arrest of George Zimmerman who continues to walk the streets as a free man.
The petition, which was created by Trayvon's parents on March 8, stands as the biggest petition drive ever, eclipsing the one stemming from the acquittal of Casey Anthony. In addition to this, the case has roused over 600,000 mentions on Twitter, and a Justice for Travyon Martin Facebook page, created by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons' website GlobalGrind.com, has garnered more than 82,000 likes. But the power behind this movement didn't come easily--or quickly.
It wasn't until the release of the 911 recordings, which include calls from neighbors and Zimmerman himself, that the story caught wildfire. In the call from Zimmerman, which appears to be the most condemning, he sounds intoxicated, claiming the 17-year-old a--hole looked like he was up to no good or on drugs or something. It's also clear that Zimmerman acted against the advice of the dispatcher who told him not to confront the boy.
While no one can deny the tragic, unjust circumstances that surround Trayvon's story, it would have never gained the attention it has on its own merit. Social media provided this movement the muscle it needed to be heard and to make a difference. Its online presence opened the door for offline actions. Million Hoodie Marchs have been organized in support of Trayvon in New York City and Los Angeles. BET held a special on the topic. Even President Obama commented on the situation stating, If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.
Social media is a powerful device. Never before has there been a more effective platform for social commentary. It allows the public's voice to actually be heard. The question is, though, will people listen?