In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: The other Zimmerman trial on the Web

Rachel Jeantel testifies at the George Zimmerman trial Wednesday; the Twitter commentary spikes — 2,393 tweets a minute — with a running critique of her diction, her grammar, her demeanor, her hair, her physique, her combativeness, her surly performance.

The basic content of the 19-year-old Miami woman’s testimony — she was on the phone with Trayvon Martin during his fatal confrontation with Zimmerman — seems almost a secondary consideration in the Twitterverse.

So goes the madness as social media pervades a sensational murder trial. The proceedings become national theater in a streaming simulcast with unfiltered babble.

When defense attorney Don West, in his opening statement Monday, tosses in a feeble knock-knock joke, the online jury offers an immediate verdict. CNN: “If keyboard-pounding Twitter users are any indication, George Zimmerman’s defense team may already be facing an uphill battle. People on the social media site quickly rendered their own verdict Monday — overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution.”

CNN counts tweets and declares, “Don West’s knock-knock joke fell flat. Leading up to the trial, Zimmerman supporters have been very active and vocal on social media in their defense of the former neighborhood watchman, making Monday’s shift that much more interesting.”

Interesting perhaps, but hardly pertinent in a trial with a sequestered jury, kept away from online ravings — though the web’s influence in this case has been so pervasive, maybe the stuff will seep under the doors into their hotel rooms.

The days after Trayvon Martin’s shooting, with the cops dawdling, Facebook and Twitter hosted a mighty burst of outrage that Zimmerman had not been charged. Until Trayvon Martin became a national cause. And Facebook had turned a photo of the kid in a hoodie into an iconic image.

Then Zimmerman’s supporters stormed online with their rebuttal, crying self-defense, making much of unseemly tweets young Trayvon had posted days before his death. Judge Debra Nelson ruled the defense could not exploit Trayvon’s postings, but out there in the Twitterverse, all evidence is admissible.

Zimmerman’s defense team launched its own website and Twitter account, rallying support and raising thousands for his defense fund.

During voir dire, potential jurors were asked whether they had posted or shared information about the case on the Internet. Several said Facebook was their only news source. One potential juror was removed after he denied posting on Facebook about the case, when, in fact, he had boasted about his coming stint on the jury: “I CAN tell you THIS. ‘Justice’... IS Coming,”

Key prosecution witness Selene Bahadoor admits on cross examination Tuesday that she had added her name to a petition last year, calling for Zimmerman’s prosecution. And Rachel Jeantel’s meandering and occasionally profane tweets about this case have come under scrutiny.

As the judge dismisses the jury Wednesday, she warns the jurors to avoid getting contaminated by that other Zimmerman trial — the one streaming across the Internet.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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