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Justice In The Balance

There is little doubt the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin cause has captured the hearts and minds of people across the country and around the world. Now the attorney for George Zimmerman, who faces a charge of second-degree murder for shooting Trayvon Martin, is using social media to defend his client against what he sees as biased public opinion brought about by social media campaigns handled by the victims family and an outpouring of celebrity interest in the case.

Last week it was revealed that Zimmerman had raised more than $200,000 through the use of a very limited online campaign which he managed. He defense attorney Mark O’Mara, said at the time he had no idea that much money had been raised and that he was surprised at the willingness of people to support his client monetarily. Just days after this information came to light, O’Mara said he was launching a full-fledged social media campaign in support of his client.

There is little doubt social media is a powerful weapon in the court of public opinion. And it does seem unfair that the victim’s family can have a social media campaign for their supporters, without there being equal social media support for the alleged aggressor. The justice system was designed to offer a balanced view for both sides in any dispute. Since social media can easily tilt the odds in favor of one side or the other, Zimmerman’s defense would be remiss in not offering their own presence.

But where does it stop? At one point does social media cease to be a tool and become instead a weapon, wielded to give one side or the other an advantage in what is supposed to be equal representation in the eyes of the law? And do we, or the courts, decide what is too much?

O’Mara has made it clear they will not discuss aspects of the case via social media, which would likely be cause for a mistrial, or even his client losing his defense case, but just spinning social media in his clients seems like tap-dancing just on the edge of reason. It is also difficult to know just what they might get with their social media campaign as the rules are different online where people come and go with their own intentions. When you consider what an explosive case this has become it seems easy to imagine some passionate folks, on either side, wielding their own social media prowess to accomplish some misdeed intended to sabotage their perceived opponent.

How this all plays out will no doubt be a lesson in social media marketing for the ages….

But others point out that the Martin family has benefited from immense social traction online, especially from celebrities who have trumpeted the case of the unarmed teenager.

Marcus Messner, assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications and an expert on social media, told HLN Monday that O’Mara’s online strategy, although belated in comparison to that generated by the Martin family, is a smart one.

“In many people’s views, George Zimmerman is guilty, even without a trial. This of course has to do with the circumstances of this case, but also with his side’s communication strategy so far. It’s common practice for lawyers to make public statements in defense of their clients,” Messner said. “Moving them now to social media is a sign of the times. It allows the legal team to present its views without media filters. What has to be seen is how much public support they can gather through social media.”

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