Social media, particularly Twitter, reacted with great intensity
to Saturday night’s news that George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Fla., man on trial in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, had been found not guilty of second-degree murder.
Zimmerman’s name and hashtags associated with the trial, such as #JusticeforTrayvon, were trending topics most of Sunday. Reactions ran the gamut from celebration to righteous anger. Two NFL players, the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz
and the Atlanta Falcons’ Roddy White
, had to apologize for tweets asserting that Zimmerman and the jury would or should be killed.
When emotions run high and Twitter becomes a platform for debate about a tragic event or a high-profile criminal case, it’s not unusual for people to let their anger get the better of them. Also fairly common: Brand accounts stepping in, using a hashtag about a serious debate to promote a product or service, and looking totally clueless in the process.
Kenneth Cole did just that
as protests raged in Cairo in 2011. Bing asked for retweets
in a tweet about the Fukushima, Japan, earthquake. A fashion boutique, seemingly unaware of what the #Aurora hashtag meant last year, tweeted about a dress
while people were mourning those killed in a theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.
It’s a story that seems to come up every time a tragic or divisive topic comes to dominate Twitter, but it hasn’t happened in the Zimmerman case, and although demonstrations in U.S. cities
are likely to continue and federal civil-rights charges could be brought, the case has fallen off the trending topics list.
Brands certainly still know how to use a hashtag to promote themselves. One needs look back no further than Friday, the night before the Zimmerman verdict, to see all the brand tweets that took advantage of the tongue-in-cheek field day Twitter had over the SyFy original film “Sharknado.”
That so many made hay out of that trending topic but steered clear of the Zimmerman case would seem to indicate that some ground rules about what's clearly off limits on social media may have finally solidified.
Or maybe the next time one of these stories rolls around, a brand will stick its foot in its online mouth.
Certainly there’s still plenty of opportunity for gaffes, in social and traditional media. The bizarre post-trial press conference
of the chief prosecutor, Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, in which she grinned throughout and seemed to celebrate a loss, has raised eyebrows.