The BBC has a story that asks why social media couldn't save Troy Davis? Despite the outcry on social media, in particular--Twitter--Troy Davis was still executed. Celebrities such as Martha Plimpton and Alec Baldwin tweeted about the case, and Outkast artist Big Boi posted photos from outside the jail to his TwitPic account. "Troy Davis", "Letter to Georgia" and NO EVIDENCE were all trending topics in the US throughout the night on social media. Yet all the angry tweets and online petitions did nothing to prevent Davis being executed at 23:08 local time in an Atlanta, Georgia prison.
The inability to turn the digital outrage over Davis into real-life action served as a stark contrast to the new realities of much of the digital world. "We are living in a 21st Century communications infrastructure, but we are still governed by a 20th Century political system," says Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Media, which focuses on the intersection of politics and internet culture. In an age when movies and music can be accessed instantly and a customer service issue can be resolved with a quick tweet, social media has already been cited in the success of the Arab Spring revolutions.
But the case of Troy Davis showed its limits. "I'm not sure that 1,000 twfeets or Facebook posts have the same power as one phone call," says Brian Southwell, a professor at the University of North Carolina. "We've lowered the bar for activism. Now it's a click away."
One factor could have been that all the activity on social media happened too late. Instead of starting the momentum toward clemency earlier in the process, the activity happened far too late to have any effect. One tweeter asked, "To the people yelling injustice for Troy Davis, where were you last month, six months, years ago & not just the week prior to his execution?"
Another factor, is that the action doesn't come from the force of public will, registered online or otherwise. America's execution rate has dropped by 50% since 1999 due to reduced concern about crime, a lower level of homicide, and fiscal austerity, since death penalty cases are more expensive to prosecute. Another factor is the Judges, prosecutors, and American Legal Institute, the "elites" who decided about how the death penalty functions and wrote the guidelines for death penalty legislation, publicly denounced those guidelines in 2010.
On the other hand, overall public opinion for the death penalty remains strong. A 2010 Gallup poll shows that 64% of Americans support the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, down from 65% in 2006 and 68% in 2001.
So, Social media gave the case added publicity, but there was little effect in the outcome for various reasons. Does that mean that Social media is worthless for activism? Not really, it can be used to raise awareness of an issue--particularly issues that are ignored by the Main Stream Media. Maybe people didn't know about the case and weren't involved in the efforts to save Troy Davis, but a lot more people now know what happened. Perhaps the increased awareness of the circumstances of the Troy Davis will help erode support for the death penalty.
The real bottom line is that we are not sure how Social Media will effect activism. Will it raise issues and debate to change public attitude toward social issues? Social media is yet in its infancy where activism is concerned.