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Social media v. Casey Anthony

By Jaclyn McNeil

Casey Anthony was found #notguilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in the trial that became this summer’s most watched reality TV show. The verdict was tweeted, retweeted, facebooked and blogged, mostly with outrage and disbelief. The media and public had already reached a verdict in the case long before the trial even began: guilty.

The social media world was captivated by the case and trial. Twitter accounts were created to give live feed of the trial throughout the day including OSCaseyAnthony, managed by the Orlando Sentinel, and NinthCircuitFL, managed by the 9th Judicial Circuit Court.

News coverage of the case by reporters Greta Van Susteran, Nancy Grace, Bill O’Reilly, Shep Smith and Geraldo Rivera aired around the clock with almost all bias toward the guilt of the accused, Casey Anthony. The lack of evidence did not seem to sway the media or the public’s opinion. Although the trial is over, the social media trial of Casey is not. TIME magazine  has coined the trial as “The Social Media Trial of the Century.” The day the verdict was announced 325,283 Twitter posts about the case were made with “not guilty” appearing 20,000 times.

In the courthouse of Twitter and Facebook Casey Anthony is guilty. And that is what makes this case and trial so unique: the public has followed the case and trial through media outlets and announced their verdict in a public platform through social media.

Eric Dunning, a communication and justice theory instructor for the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Alabama, believes that social media has revolutionized the way people respond to criminal cases.

“The media creates a virtual town square, and the general public becomes an extension of the media as citizen journalists on social media,” said Dunning.

Social media allows people to gain rapid information and rapid response. The public’s disbelief of the verdict was likely a result of the misleading information from the media.

“The media made the prosecution seem better than it was, so naturally viewers were shocked by the result,” said Dunning. “Shows stir up controversy; the media needs a convenient villian and a great storyline.”

So what is the next step for Casey Anthony? Crisis management public relations expert Glenn Selig, founder of the PR firm The Publicity Agency, represented lead defense attorney Jose Baez. In an article for PR NewsChannel Selig comments on the Casey Anthony case, the potential money that may be made and defending clients to the public.

“If big money comes from anywhere, it will be from the entertainment world–movies and books–where payment is commonplace. And the less of the story that is told now, the more valuable a book or movie deal will be,” said Selig.

If the public finds out that Casey Anthony is making money off of an interview, what is the potential backlash a network may receive? Is it worth the risk?

One thing can be certain: book deals and interviews will be made and there are many candidates. Juror number 6 has hired PR firm French/West/Vaughn. According to the New York Times a network executive said the fee to talk to juror number 6 was $50,000.

“That could be a book by itself and you could make the argument that because they arrived at the verdict they did, their story is now worth more than it would have been had they found her guilty,” said Selig.

The public is fascinated by this case, and a book deal or interview with juror members would attract a lot of attention. The public backlash may be minimal for jurors since they have no direct association with the Anthony family.

However, as Selig points out, “Whoever is looking to make money on this needs to be very careful because just talking about capitalizing on the death of a child feels dirty.”

Casey will likely make some sort of formal appearance or book deal in spite of Selig’s warning. When she gets out of jail she will probably be shunned by most of the public and will run into the arms of the media. We have made Casey Anthony a celebrity, whether we like it or not.

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