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Why Twitter Couldn’t Save Troy Davis

It's what you do once you've signed off and engaged the real world that is the true measure of your activism.

Just because you have millions of followers doesn't mean you know what you're tweeting about. (Image: Getty)

Social-media activism can be a powerful force for good. But it’s a mistake, and even dangerous, to confuse social media awareness with being truly informed. While social media can make you more aware, it has equal power to inform and misinform. (Yes, just like so-called traditional media. Exhibit A: Fox News.) Social media is far better at communicating what we believe, how we feel, what we’ve heard, than it is at educating and separating facts from supposition from fiction. Media, whether social or traditional, can make people more aware. But awareness is not enough—we must sift through the tweets, status updates and click on the links they deliver, and then apply some critical thinking, to become truly informed. It’s what people do after they become aware, the efforts they make to educate themselves, the actions they take in support of a cause, that makes the difference. In the case of Troy Davis, too few people took action, and the action they did take, including the protest outside of the Georgia State House attended and promoted heavily on Twitter by Antwan “Big Boi” Patton of the music group OutKast, had virtually no chance of influencing the justice system that’s held Davis’ life in the balance for the past two decades.

 

I heard a lot of people on Twitter who believed their tweeting about the Davis case constituted activism on the level of the actions, risks and sacrifices (including their lives) made by young Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. A few people actually compared their persistent and passionate tweeting about Troy Davis to lunch counter sit-ins by students in Greensboro, North Carolina and other parts of the South in the 1960s. My response to that line of thinking: don’t be ridiculous. Unless riot cops were waiting outside to bust your head wide open to stop your Troy Davis tweets, just stop it.

Too many people—including many celebrities—who rail against the justice system when there are high-profile cases like those of  Troy Davis and Casey Anthony in the news, believe that it’s not worth their time, and even beneath them, to serve jury duty when called. (Reminds me of all the celebrities pushing get-out-the-vote campaigns a few years ago who were embarrassed when it was revealed that they themselves had never voted, and in many cases, had never even registered to do so.) If you really care about the justice system and how it operates, you wouldn’t skip jury duty, nor would you need tweets from Kardashian (who naively tweeted the notion that Davis’ life could be spared if he was only allowed to take a polygraph test) or any other celebrity to take action. (Note: Just because a person has 9.9 million followers on Twitter doesn’t mean that person knows what they’re tweeting about.)

What will you do now that Davis is gone? What about the other 3,000 plus people slated for execution? Will you write a check or volunteer for organizations such as Amnesty International and The Innocence Project? Will you make a candidate’s position on death penalty reform a key condition of whether or not they will get your vote or your campaign contribution? Will you take the time to educate yourself about how the American criminal justice system works—and doesn’t work? Will you engage our youth and, as film producer Will Packer tweeted yesterday, urge them “to never do anything to put themselves at the mercy of the justice system”? Will you do something besides retweet or repost?

Social media activism does not take place while you are on Twitter or Facebook. It’s about more than turning a cause into a trending topic. It’s what you do with your time, money, energy and relationships once you’ve signed off, in the real world, that is the true measure of your activism. Anything less is just smartphone activism, an insult to those, both past and present, who really risked and sacrificed for the causes they believe in. Social media can’t save people. Only active, committed, informed and engaged people can do that.

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ACROSS THE WEB
  • GG

    It was good to see folks feel SOMEthing for troy, but it’s interesting that I never saw most of these people during this struggle a couple YEARS or more ago (appx April/May ’09, to be more accurate)….
    It got feverish enough to be minimized to what felt like something of a (albeit virtual) photo op for celebs or ppl who felt like their voice held power &/or representation for large groups– folks who get popularity confused with fame. It became a “bandwagon” incident rather than what it should progressively represent & I disturbingly believe that many of those very ppl will forget about him as quickly as they did tedwilliams… “Who?” ….Exactly.

    • Johnmark

      adulterers should be stoend to death, and demanded to know what Jesus had to say. Presumably, they thought they had Jesus trapped no matter which way he responded. If he agreed that she should be stoend, that would undermine his teachings about forgiveness. If he said to spare her, they could accuse him of not upholding biblical law.Jesus refused to play their game, but when he said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” he was referring to the Deuteronomy 17 provision (found in verses 2-7) 2If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and transgresses his covenant 3by going to serve other gods and worshiping them—whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden— 4and if it is reported to you or you hear of it, and you make a thorough inquiry, and the charge is proved true that such an abhorrent thing has occurred in Israel, 5then you shall bring out to your gates that man or that woman who has committed this crime and you shall stone the man or woman to death. 6On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. 7The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.that the witnesses should throw the first stones in an execution. In so saying, he saved the woman’s life, because none of her accusers could claim sinlessness. At the same time, we should note that Jesus, in effect, does decline to affirm the death penalty for this woman. The Mosaic Law clearly says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). Questions: We note, and certainly Jesus did too, that only the adulterous woman had been brought before him, and not the adulterous man. What might his response have been if both parties in this liaison had been charged? What might Jesus have said about the execution of Troy Davis? What might Jesus say about any case where a death sentence is issued?

  • Kim

    very good article…

  • KJ

    Wow- Shows how blind I was. I was one who was using the hash tags heavily but my intentions were to get people to think enough about it to do the research and take action. I’m an avid volunteer but work did not allow me to be more hands on involved these last months but I was doing everything I could from my desk. My phones and fax machine are getting a break today to make up for recent overuse, and in my mind that’s what I figured everyone else was doing in between getting our work done. I truly hope that people did not really thinking that tweeting was the action because that would be such a sad reflection of our society. If what you say is true Mr. Edmond, the work that need to do is much greater than I thought. It’s not just mobilizing from change- This would say that we need to spend more time teaching people what that really means and how to do it.

  • KJ

    Wow- Shows how blind I was. I was one who was using the hash tags heavily but my intentions were to get people to think enough about it to do the research and take action. I’m an avid volunteer but work did not allow me to be more hands on involved these last months but I was doing everything I could from my desk. My phones and fax machine are getting a break today to make up for recent overuse, and in my mind that’s what I figured everyone else was doing in between getting our work done. I truly hope that people were not really thinking that tweeting was the action because that would be such a sad reflection of our society. If what you say is true Mr. Edmond, the work that needs to do is much greater than I thought. It’s not just mobilizing for change- This would say that we need to spend more time teaching people what that really means and how to do it.

  • warren otis fisher

    sadly,your thoughts on TROY DAVIS ring so very true. i too agree that the death penalty is unfair for all people (and expressly african americans). killing even one innocent person is too many murders by a state. it’s bad for america and it’s a poor commentary on americans.

    i have seen the justice system up close; and ….. woe be unto him that falls into her net. your name, money and person may be gone (forever). the burden of proving one’s case against a machine like the justice system is fraught with peril. but, what does one do ….? we the people, of the people and for the people sometimes gets lost in our politics.

  • Chuck P

    Nice article, i can agree with you on 90% of what you wrote. Personally, I feel that “WE” as a group of people should continue to use social media sites to raise awareness of cases like the Late Troy Davis, and other injustices. It might not be the same as a sit-in or a boycott, but the way we function and communicate as a people has changed multiple times since back in the civil-rights era. I will not cast aspersions on the people that were tweeting last night about the case, what I will say is that it should have started years ago. This wasnt the first time his case was up for an appeal, but it sure seemed that way. I wish that people with “star-power” would use their appeal to incite their base on other issues that we pass over unless it directly affects us.

  • Yinka

    I think Twitter is being given too much power. If people genuinely thought that hashtagging and tweeting and blogging would change Troy Davis’s outcome, then they should go back and repeat high school Civics, US History and government classes.

    • Emma

      Please stop this execution now. There is so much doubt that only icutsjine would would be gained. Further investigation is needed to prove that Troy Anthony Davis is guilty; there is too much evidence to the contrary.

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  • Kai

    I agree with you that using social media would not have saved Troy Davis from his sentence. Social media did have it’s influence on awareness about him. However please note Twitter did in fact stop his name from trending. (Did @Twitter Kill #TroyDavis? – http://tinyurl.com/3w7lwdf) For a social media site with 200 million users to actually block others from knowing millions were talking about Troy Davis is cause for concern. If they can stop people from knowing what people are talking about, how easily can they give 200 million people something to talk about? What effect could twitter have in the coming elections? What if they decide to block information on candidates that people are talking about? It’s all very concerning. I suggest you research what impact social sites like Twitter really do have on society?

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      Kai;

      Lots of people are asking if Twitter blocked the #TroyDavis hashtag. There is a lot of speculation and suspicion. But no one can say that they actually did this. Until it can be proven, it’s a non-issue. And even if it is true, it would have had zero impact on the Troy Davis cause. Twitter couldn’t save Troy Davis, and it certainly couldn’t kill him.

      I highly recommend the book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser. I think you’d enjoy it.

  • AE

    Fantastic. Thank you for this contribution.

  • Lisa

    I have to disagree with this article. Social Media is now a key aspect of “the real world”. Here is why BE is wrong, “Making The Case For Digital Activism: How Social Media Helps Causes” http://ourlegaci.com/?p=2020

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      Lisa;

      Social media CAN help boost awareness of causes and spur people to act. But without real-world action, it is not a substitute for activism itself. Too many people believed otherwise with the Troy Davis case, and thus are shocked and disappointed with the outcome.

      Alfred

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  • Cliff

    While I disagree with some of your philosophy, you are spot on when it comes to the social media. A few keystrokes does not equal sacrifice to advance a goal. Regardless of where one stands politically, I hope that they will take the time to educate themselves on the issues, and then vote in an informed manner rather than just following the latest internet rambling of someone who may or may not have knowledge on an issue.

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