With the parents of Trayvon Martin -- the 17-year-old Floridian shot by George Zimmerman in February -- using social media and other aspects of the digital world like Change.org, the case quickly became a viral one. But Martin's family and supporters are not the only ones taking to the Web to make their case, according to NPR Zimmerman's defense is employing tactics on the Web as well.
NPR reports that Zimmerman's lawyers have created a Facebook page, established a Twitter feed and launched a website about the case. So far, the George Zimmerman Legal Case's Facebook page has more than 2,100 likes, and on Twitter is being followed by more than 1,300 accounts. NPR calls this an "extraordinary move by defense attorneys in a criminal case".
Here is what NPR reports some experts saying about the defense strategy that is being established:
"If you are facing serious prison time, you want to load the dice as best you can," says crisis management specialist Eric Dezenhall, who advised attorneys representing Michael Jackson in a 2005 molestation trial, in which the singer was acquitted. "If you know that the case is being publicly debated, if there's any chance of convincing the public that your client is innocent, you're going to try to do it using real facts and plausible narratives."
"All the social media could make jury selection for the prosecution really problematic because you don't know what information [jurors] have had access to," says Barry Krisher, a retired prosecutor who served 16 years as the state's attorney for Palm Beach County, Fla. "My concern is, do they have a version of the facts in their mind that I have to counteract before I even put my case on?
"Am I starting on an equal footing with the defense because he's been able to put his positive spin out there?" Krisher says. "You're walking out there potentially into a minefield."
Zimmerman's defense -- for which all online efforts were officially up and running as of April 29 -- acknowledges it is "unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant". They present these justifications as to why they're taking this tactic, in addition to feeling it would be "irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation," which includes:
- Discrediting and eliminating false fraudulent websites and social profiles
- Disputing misinformation
- Discouraging speculation
- Acknowledging the larger significance of the case
- Providing a forum for communication with the law firm
- Providing a voice for Mr. Zimmerman
- Raising funds
Receiving both criticism and support for this tactic already, the defense has also presented how it will use these forums in an appropriate manner. The lawyers state they will not be making comments on Martin's character or that of his family or supporters using the social media sites. They will also avoid commenting on evidence in the case in general.
Even though some have voiced discontent about the defense creating these sites, NPR reports jury consultant Amy Singer agrees that she doesn't see any choice but for Mark O'Mara, lead attorney for the Zimmerman, to "join in the conversation."
Read more about analysis by NPR on the use of social media by the defense here.