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Trial by Internet

Friday, July 8, 2011 by cyberacoustics

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware of the controversial Casey Anthony verdict that came down this week. While it’s not my business to take a stand on either side, something that DID pique my interest about the trial was the role that the Internet played, both in terms of information sharing and community forming.

Televised trials are nothing new, of course. OJ Simpson’s murder trial in 1995 was shown on TV, and an estimated 150 million people watched the verdict. People all over the world followed it with interest and discussed it with their friends. There wasn’t as much online chatter about it, obviously, since the Internet and online forums were nowhere near as popular then as they are now. In a world where some people ONLY get their news from Twitter (Beau Rosser, CA Social Media Director I am looking at you), the ability to get the latest news quickly and share it with others cannot be overlooked.

From the start of the Caylee Anthony missing child case, message boards like websleuths.com ignited in a flurry of posts. The mysterious nature of the case (every day, more and more information seemed to come out about Casey Anthony’s whereabouts) seemed to resonate with many people. And once the trial itself started, a lot of viewers actually got to hear and see more than the jury, which led to even more data and information to work with.

Message board posters shared theories, investigated leads by themselves, and created timelines. They got to know each other. They got involved. I mean, they got REALLY involved. When it was announced that the jury had reached a verdict this week, it felt like the Internet exploded a little. People watched the verdict on their laptops, at their desks, and on their iPhones, then took to Facebook and Twitter.

It seemed as if everyone had an opinion on what happened, and everyone was ready to share. CNN.com’s iReport section quickly filled up with users from all walks of life uploading video reactions to the verdict. Websleuth’s server slowed to a crawl.

The disappointment was palpable. Internet users opined that they’d given up three years of their lives concentrating on this trial. Some of them had even paid money to go down to Orlando to see the verdict in person. The legal ins-and-outs of the trial were discussed down to the minutest details. People comforted each other. What started as concern for a missing child (and let’s be honest, a little bit of morbid curiosity) had transformed into something more.

So what happens now? The level of interest and downright obsession generated by the Casey Anthony trial has to go somewhere, and many people are channeling it into investigating and discussing other missing children cases. Citizen journalism has become par for the course in the midst of news stories like the Arab Spring, but with the Casey Anthony verdict, it took a slightly different turn. Regardless, the Internet is tailor-made for shared interests, and to see a community emerge out of something so terrible was fascinating indeed.

-Laine Towey, CA Marketing Manager

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