Social Media's Court Of Public Opinion: Zimmerman vs Martin Blurs Vigilantism & Censorship

When a neighborhood watch group escalates from its watchdog origins to outright vigilantism, is nothing to be done to protect the lives innocent citizens? So is the question asked by the Trayvon Martin camp.

However, in their fervor to prove their point, they have assumed the same extreme behavior online as that which they are condemning on the streets. Within the last week, Twitter accounts with the hateful handles of @killzimmerman and @BeheadZimmerman have not only become their own form of vigilantism, they are allowed to persist due to Twitter's stand of its terms of service and censorship. However, herein lies how this case has blurred those lines as well.

Back in 2009, when Biz Stone, one of Twitter's co-founders was in a debate with Rupert Murdoch's stance of demanding a limit to the access Google had in listing Murdoch's newspapers' titles in their SERPs (search engine result pages), he chastised the media mogul for his narrow-mindedness. "The future (of the new media) is openness, not being closed," noted Stone.

Taking Stone's "openness" premise one step further, the microblogging site has been adamant about  discovery and transparency for all of its members - and indicates in their TOS that they do not "actively monitor user's content and not censor user content."

Based on a CNN TV report today, it was noted that Twitter would not move from this position in regards to the accounts of @killzimmerman and @beheadzimmerman. As a result, they will be allowed to continue publishing misogynist tweets, no matter how their words might incite others.

However, if one was to dig deeper into the "Content Boundaries and Use of Twitter," one would have to question WHY Twitter would not remove these accounts based on their own TOS caveat that states, "you may not publish or post direct, specific threats against others."

AND . . are not the following tweets "direct, specific threats against others?"

In a land that has fought two wars over the course of the last decade and has come face to face with terrorists that have killed lives on American soil, should we not take a moment to ponder how this recent tragedy is affecting ordinary people into conducting themselves in very un-ordinary and pernicious ways.

And affecting even some who should know better?

Earlier this week, the award-winning director Spike Lee tweeted out what he thought was Zimmerman's address, only to find out the residence was the home of an elderly couple, the McClain family, who had to flee as a result from the subsequent harassment they received in threats to their lives, according to the Daily Mail. He has since issued the following tweet as an apology.

We live in a precarious age, where the court of public opinion moves at lightening speed, tugged and pulled by the real-time accessibility of social media. Less we allow vigilantism to become the law of the land, we need to assess cause and effect and how that delivers justice in a logical, methodical manner. No more is the catch-phrase "loose tweets can sink fleets" more applicable than this case.

@FightinBluHen51 probably best summarized how these thin lines are getting blurred when he tongue-and-cheek tweeted to @killzimmerman the following:

Apr 6, 2012
by Anonymous

trayvon martin

If a neighborhood watch black woman shot a white teenager with a hoodie, she would have been finger printed,submitted to a breathalizer and have to submit to a cavity search and then interrorgated for seven or eight hours before being arrested for murder. By the way, I am a sixty plus white American Southern woman and I am appalled that Mr. Zimmerman was not.