The presumption of evidence means very little to an angry Twitter mob. Days after George Zimmerman was arrested for a messy altercation that tragically left 17-year-old Trayvon Martin dead, celebrities and civil rights groups broke out the digital pitchforks, ready to condemn the man before cooler heads could examine the facts. Now, a picture of Zimmerman’s bloody nose from the night of the attack has given significant credibility to Zimmerman’s plea of self-defense.
On February 26th in Sanford, Florida, Zimmerman nervously ended a phone call with Sanford Police and approached the unarmed boy on the suspicion that he was out for touble. Zimmerman was later released by police on account of Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground law, which permits acts of forceful self-defense without an obligation to first retreat. Almost immediately, allegations of racism began to swirl online, with calls for Zimmerman’s immediate arrest.
Director Spike Lee, one of the most forceful voices online, was so haphazard in his rage that he accidentally tweeted the home address of an elderly couple, who also happened to be named “Zimmerman.” (Lee later settled with the couple out of court, after they were forced to flee from their home.)
Despite early evidence that began rolling in, such as a picture of Zimmerman’s bloodied head, calls for vengeance against Zimmerman poured in:
The protests were so overwhelming that Zimmerman’s laywers created a website to fight back. We understand that it is unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant,” said Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara. “We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation,” he explained later.
Zimmerman himself crowdfunded over $200,000 for his legal defense on his own website, therealgeorgezimmerman.com.
Zimmerman’s case is a complex one, given his eagerness to confront Martin, and in light of these new photos, it’s far from clear. Yet that didn’t stop an online mob from destroying Zimmerman’s reputation and exacting a, perhaps, life-long social sentence way before a verdict has been rendered. On Twitter, there is a fine line between the crowd and a mob.