Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis was executed Sep. 21 after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour request to block the execution. Davis was convicted of killing off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. It was a somber conclusion to a recently launched social media campaign led by Amnesty International and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which garnered international support for Davis.
While the online campaign to save Davis’ life failed, there are some digital activism ideas to take away from this situation.
1. Social Media wasn’t used correctly in this case. Flip the Media’s Jonathan Cunningham made some great points about the lack of online clout:
…Many of the people retweeting petitions and posting notices on their social media accounts had never heard of Davis until a week ago — or less. Reading and signing a physical petition, or writing a parole board takes effort and research at the very least. Retweeting a petition for clemency in a capital murder case only takes dexterity in one finger as you click a button. Online activism, while noble and potentially powerful, typically involves the short-winded enthusiasm of the uninformed. If Troy Davis is the triggerman and he’s guiltier than sin, there would still be just as many wide-eyed folks on Twitter sending around links to save his life today. Frankly, that’s uneducated and unwise at the very least and potentially dangerous at the extreme…
2. Old school organizations finally learn new tricks. After much complaining by many black bloggers, the NAACP has possibly found a way to be relevant to younger African-Americans through social media, while still upholding the values and traditions the venerable organization is best known for.
3. Social media isn’t always the cause of riots. Unlike the recent riots in London, followed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s now recanted desire to ban social media, riots didn’t break out in black neighborhoods throughout the United States in light of the execution. In the days leading up the execution date, many people online wondered if Twitter was purposely censoring any mention of Davis and hashtags #TooMuchDoubt or #TroyDavis from trending. Some of us in the office speculated that if Twitter was in fact censoring, they were doing it to possibly prevent potential rioting.
4. Maybe more people will pay attention to more serious issues. While all the retweets and rallies may not have saved Davis’ life, digital activism shows that it could be a tool to mobilize people to think about things more pressing than who “celebutante” Kim Kardashian is dating or who will appear on “Dancing with the Stars.” Capital punishment is a very complex issue on many levels that needs to be addressed better by law enforcement, elected officials and the general public. Our only complaint is that Amnesty International and the NAACP should have started a stronger social media campaign months ago instead of a week before the execution. Not only would the general public have been better educated about Davis’ case, but possibly – just possibly – Davis would be alive today.