Last week, in the aftermath of Troy Davis’s execution, I read several articles that analyzed what happened as far as the social media influence on creating the delay and in uniting people across the world in advocating for his life. Most of them proclaimed that social media (read Twitter) was an absolute failure because the million or so tweets failed to influence the Supreme Court. The quote I remember is that activism is becoming 21st century while justice in America is still in the 20th century.
The funny thing is that the massive social media activity surrounding his execution was very successful, and stands to become very influential in future actions to stop the death penalty – but you wouldn’t know that it you were analyzing it from a 20th century viewpoint.
This is the problem with most of the media and the Internet pundits that write these commentaries and reviews. They approach analysis based on a set of criteria that examines products or actions based on a very limited, linear and orthogonal basis. They look at success or achievement as an either/or cause and effect process. For example – if one has mass numbers of followers on a social media network than one must have influence and celebrity. This is not true. Acquiring numbers of followers is an automated and passive experience that occurs once but says nothing about the interactive relationship of the followers to the followed. You can’t even look at the instances of reposting or commenting to gauge influence. In order to gauge influence on the Internet you must be able to examine how the influence washes off the internet and into a real time action and then, returns to the Internet. Influence on the Internet is not shown by someone engaging in an immediate dialogue in response to the post but in the later retelling of the follower to the followed of the evidence of change/influence the post created in their life.
In sales, on the Internet, success is not determined by the amount of units sold in relation to any given specific drive, but by the long-term brand loyalty created. It is not the people who are first time buyers that are important, but the ones who keep showing up and then purchase because the brand has created a relationship with them.
In regards to social justice, what happened with Troy Davis proved that it was very successful in motivating people to pay attention. It opened opportunities for discussion and education. More importantly, it served as a bridge between groups that would normally not interact and joined them in a single line of thinking. Missing was the real time response to all the phone numbers etc that were posted. It was that real time response rate that would have made the twittering madly successful for Troy Davis because it would have created an off line influence.
It was, however, the unrelated news article that appeared shortly after the execution that shows that the kind of Twitter event that happened surrounding Troy is about to step out into the world of real time influence.
As they are progressing in the trial against Michael Jackson’s doctor, the court issued a decision that specifically referenced social media. It said that lawyers could examine Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds of potential jurors and admit the feeds as evidence for dismissing a potential juror from the pool. Social media…public posting, just got its foot in the door as a legally recognized representation of a person’s opinions and beliefs. It lends an almost unbearable weight to public posting because now it is beginning to have real time judicial influence.
That, to me, is a signal that the mass unity about Troy that happened on line is a success. One that measured by a specific result but by creating a general atmosphere of real time influence. It is also proves, as I often go on about and rant, that what one does post (public or not) should be treated carefully and approached with a healthy set of responsibility because more and more it is becoming a recognized real-time version of you. Even if you may never visit the country or see the room and the table and the laptop and meet the person reading your post – it is as if you were standing there.
Once you accept that responsibility and reality, you are also charged to change the way you ‘listen’ to what is posted. It can be harmful or helpful but it always contributes to the sphere of influence that you walk in through your real-time life.
Social/cultural change is never measured in a single instance no matter what the media and people who want to be perceived as experts will proclaim. The atmosphere it creates measures change and in the subtle shifting of what has been to align itself with what is demanded should come.
As I tweeted this morning, pessimism should marry our optimism to create change. In recognizing the worst that may happen if we do nothing, we are then motivated to either do something or give up. If we give up, it means we accept our destruction. If we do something, we may not achieve the change we desire, we may reveal that for each small gain there is more we must do but that is a part of living.
Nothing in life is capable of standing still without falling apart under its own weight.
There are more executions coming. Not all of them will garner the same attention as Troy. But with all of them, we can respond so that injustice does not become acceptable.
Never lose sight of the fact that as a species we always stand at the brink of our own destruction. But the same energy and innovative drive that has brought us to the brink and diverts us to a path along the edge of the cliff. There will never be a moment when we are not in danger of our own destruction, but that does not mean that we have to accept that as inevitable. Constant vigilance, constant action, choice and a true desire to be present in an ever-changing life will save lives – including our own.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.