Beverly B. Media and Communications

Why Twitter Couldn’t Save Troy Davis.

At 11:08pm Eastern time on September 21, 2011, death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis was executed in Savannah, Georgia, for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail, a crime he was convicted of more than 20 years ago. The battle to prevent Davis’ execution, based in large part on several of the original witnesses in the case recanting their testimonies, began long before the emergence of social media as a dominant influence in our society. Advocates ranging from Amnesty International to President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and former FBI Director and Judge William S. Sessions had taken up Davis’ cause, helping to carry the fight through state and federal appeals and three stays of execution, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The most recent—and final—battle to get a fourth stay of execution, and more importantly a new trial, enlisted social media, and specifically Twitter, in order to spur activism and awareness of Davis’ plight. The battle reached a fever pitch in the days and hours before the scheduled execution, thanks at least in part to celebrities with large and responsive Twitter followings, including Russell Simmons and Kim Kardashian, calling for a new trial for Davis. In addition to expressing disgust and outrage about the Davis case, Twitter users urged their followers to sign petitions and flood the offices of Georgia Judge Penny Freezeman, the U.S. District Attorney and others with phone calls and e-mails to get a stay of execution for Davis. As a result, Who Is Troy Davis was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter on the days leading to his execution (despite many Twitter users, including Simmons, questioning whether the social media site had deliberately blocked the #TroyDavis hashtag to keep it from trending).

Millions of Twitter users, including many of my followers, honestly believed that if they just tweeted about Troy Davis enough, and could get their followers, and their followers followers, to do so as well, they could get him a new trial at least, and maybe even prevent his execution altogether. Many are heart-broken, disillusioned and genuinely shocked that this turned out not to be the case.

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