The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

July 8, 2013

Social media infiltrates Zimmerman trial

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Trayvon Martin's fatal shooting garnered worldwide attention when the man who fatally shot him wasn't arrested for weeks — a backlash fueled largely by social media. Now, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have permeated George Zimmerman's trial both inside and outside the courtroom.

A witness who testified via Skype was inundated with calls from other users on the Internet-based phone service, and a defense attorney was tripped up by a photo his daughter posted on Instagram. Jurors and witnesses have been grilled about their postings and whom they follow.

Social media has become inextricably tied to daily life, a fact reflected by its presence in Zimmerman's murder trial. The trial is a top trend almost daily, with thousands of people tweeting their thoughts with the hashtag #ZimmermanTrial. Witnesses have tweeted about their testimony, including Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel, who after tense questioning became the brunt of spoof accounts poking fun at her candid statements and dialect.

It's not the first time social media has become the backbone of a high-profile criminal case: Casey Anthony's trial on charges she murdered her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, was closely watched, too. Photos posted on social media accounts showing Anthony's partying in the days after her daughter's disappearance became a key point in the case.

Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and says he shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin in self-defense during a scuffle in the townhome complex where he lived and Martin was visiting his father and his father's fiancee.

Among the first to publicize the story was nationally syndicated radio host Michael Baisden, who sent a message to his 65,000 Twitter followers and 585,000 Facebook fans: "Unarmed 17-year-old boy shot by neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, FL outside of Orlando." It provided a link to a story. Soon afterward, Martin's parents started an online petition on Change.org demanding Zimmerman's arrest. It generated more than 2.2 million signatures.

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