We’re all talking about Trayvon Martin now. But why did it take so long, and where was social media when Martin’s family needed it most?
As I write this, Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American teenager who was shot and killed in Florida by a neighborhood watchman is the Number 11 trend in Google Search Trends (which measures what people are searching for now). Number One? Kim Kardashian Flour Bomb. If the Internet and social media is a reflection of us, then it’s a sorry reflection, indeed.
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On Twitter, the trend for “trayvonmartin," was, according to Trendistic, virtually undetectable until March 17, almost a month after the teenager was shot on Feb. 26.
In February and March there was relatively little national news about the shooting; early reports like this one on Trayvon Martin's shooting offer few details and do not even question why the shooter was not arrested. Social media was focused on the Oscars (Martin was shot that same night) and new technology flowing out of Mobile World Congress. It took weeks for the #JusticeforTrayvon hashtag to emerge.
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It appears the social outrage didn't start until national media began reporting on the shooting and Trayvon Martin's family called for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the man who, according to police, admitted shooting the boy. A lengthy story on Huffington Post about the controversy has around 600 tweets (it was shared over 6,000 times on Facebook) and there's no call-to-action hashtag included in most of the retweets I saw.
In other words, more than a week after the shooting, it had not become an online movement. I get it -- there was other news going on and sometimes it takes a while for the real-world outrage to convert into social action. Plus, it took a while for details, like the 911 calls made shortly after the shooting or Trayvon’s last phone call between him and his girlfriend made moments before he was shot, to emerge. These revelations helped fuel new outrage, which again began to generate fresh calls for action in the social space.
One of the few voices shouting loudly, clearly and consistently for "Justice for Trayvon" was CNN Commentator Roland Martin. His voluminous Twitter stream is full of Trayvon commentary, going back at least as far as March 12.
Yet even as late as last week, #TrayvonMartin was little more than a blip on Twitter. Things started to change on Sunday and the hashtag has steadily risen in prominence throughout the week. Another hashtag #justicefortrayvon has followed a similar trajectory.
In the last 48 hours two events have helped propel the Trayvon Martin case to the forefront of social media conversation. First, Fox news commentator Geraldo Rivera blamed the hoodie Trayvon Martin was wearing for the teen’s death. “I am urging the parents of black and Latin youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies: I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,” Rivera said. (He later apologized for the comment.)
President Obama's comments on the Whitehouse lawn also helped boost the social conversation. “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon,” Obama said.
These two events reignited passion online. Soon I saw dozens of tweets making reference to “hoodies”. Some were angry, others used humor to point out the ridiculousness of Rivera’s statement. On Trendistic, the word “hoodie” skyrocketed in prominence at 8AM yesterday morning and shows no signs of slowing down. Obama’s statement, which came around noon eastern time, was retweeted over and over again.
Trayvon Martin finally has momentum online. In the time since I started working on this, he moved from the number 11 trend to number nine. Even by the end of yesterday, his search trend still sat far behind Kim Kardashian's flour bomb (a solid #1), a handful of sports figures, two Whitney Houston trends and The Hunger Games. Al Sharpton, the well-known activist who has stepped in to help spread the message about Trayvon, was briefly ahead of the teen in Google Trends. Looking now, he's at number 15.
Twitter’s own US trends had #UgliestUniform at number 1 -- actually number two if you count the promoted hash #FeelAlive. Number 9, in this case, was “Geraldo”. No #Trayvon or #TrayvonMartin, but “National Puppy Day," (which was yesterday) actress Tori Spelling, retired running back Marion Barber and…well, you get the picture.
My son is the same age as Trayvon was. I can’t imagine how I would react if this happened to my family, but I know that I’d want the world to know, to share in my outrage. I’d expect social media to spring to action and champion my cause. It took a long time for this case to reach national prominence, but even after it did, it's been a slow climb to the social explosion it became this week.
It would be ridiculous to expect people to stop searching for and tweeting about everyday, mundane and entertaining events while Trayvon's family waits for action. On the other hand, when national figures like Steve Jobs and Whitney Houston die, all platforms turn to talk about their passing. When an unarmed African American teen is shot, the outrage, no matter how great, is still not enough to dominate the social landscape.
I don’t know what exactly this says about us as a social media culture, but I don’t think it’s anything good.
This story originally published on Mashable here.