After contributing to the downfall of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, social media appears to have infiltrated the trial of George Zimmerman, a former neighbourhood watch captain accused of murdering unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin.
Waseem Saddique states: “This case is high profile in the USA as it has sparked racial tensions all across the nation. It would now appear that social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Instagram are being used as platforms to discuss the case and fuelling ever increasing tension as social media posts come under close observation and scrutiny.”
Initially, people took to social media to voice their outrage that Trayvon’s killer remained free from arrest for four weeks despite being identified as the killer. However, social media appears to have ‘gate-crashed’ the entire trial within and beyond the confines of the courtroom.
Social media has established ‘eyes everywhere’ and it all began as a result of a witness in the Zimmerman trial that gave a testimony via Skype. That particular witness was later overwhelmed with calls from fellow Skype users.
A lawyer for the defence also had his private affairs exposed as a result of an image posted on Instagram by his daughter, whilst countless members of the jury and other witnesses have had their social networking accounts monitored in order to keep track of comments and keep tabs on the people they’re following.
A social media analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Social media has effectively become a worldwide surveillance system, particularly when high profile legal cases are in process. Social media has the power to incriminate people and leave them open to abuse and obviously that is not the desired intention of social networking.”
The analyst added: “Privacy seems to be a thing of the past particularly where social media is concerned as people, often unwittingly, will expose their whole life on social media sites. The recent case of Edward Snowden revealing the US government using ‘manipulative’ measures to acquire information through spying on social media accounts highlights the big brother status of social media.”
In respect to the Zimmerman trial Twitter has its very own hashtag (#Zimmermantrial), where people gather to comment on trial proceedings. The case has become so high profile on social media it has made it easier for Lawyers involved in the case to monitor jurors and witnesses and look out for any signs of a slip up which may compromise evidence.
Worse still, social media has also connected perpetrator and victim throughout this trial with members of Zimmerman’s family and Martin’s family involved in heated exchanges across Facebook and Twitter.
In a statement from Orlando defence lawyer, David Hill, he said: “Lawyers in routine cases typically don't have time to scour the social media sites of potential jurors, though it has become more commonplace in highly publicised cases. It has become more common practice to vet the accounts of witnesses, as their posts may expose particular biases, motives or contradictions in their testimony.”
He added: “Like it or not, when it comes to Facebook and social media, it may not just be Big Brother watching you, but your friendly neighbourhood criminal defence lawyer.”
Waseem Saddique concludes: “There’s no doubt that social media has its advantages, but when it comes to legal matters should social media be allowed to infiltrate and potentially influence the outcome of highly sensitive legal cases? Only time will tell.”