I have a theory and I totally admit that it is just my theory...but I think Social Media may have helped stop the violence after the George Zimmerman verdict.
Let me explain.
I have covered two very large riots in my TV career and when I say I covered them, I mean I was in the middle of the riots. Both times I was shot at.
The first was in 1989 in Miami.
Miami police officer William Lozano shot and killed motorcyclist Clement Lloyd as the cyclist, who was being chased by a police car, sped toward Lozano.
The shooting sparked 3 days of riots in South Florida.
In 1992, I was on the streets of South Central LA covering what has become to be known as the Rodney King Riots. Those riots happened following the acquittal of police officers on trial regarding a videotaped, and widely covered police brutality incident. They were the largest riots seen in the United States since the 1960s and the worst in terms of death toll after the New York City draft riots in 1863.
Fast forward to 2013 and many expected that history could repeat itself in the George Zimmerman case.
TV stations across Florida braced for what they thought could be protests that could get out of control after the verdict.
The verdict came down late on a Saturday night, it seemed like the situation was ripe for unrest. Zimmerman was found "not guilty" in what many had made out to be a trial of race relations.
Yet, there was no wide spread violence and for the most part the protests have been peaceful.
The media lead us to believe that it was because of a number of leaders asking for calm after the verdict. But, leaders have asked for calm serval times in the past and it has not worked...so why did it this time?
I think it was because of Social Media.
So how the hell can Social Media stop riots?
Here's my theory.
In 1989 and again in 1992 the people on the street did not have a voice. For many.....they may have thought that there only way to be heard was through violence and rioting. Right or wrong, it was their way of getting their message out.
Today, anyone can have a Twitter or Facebook account. Their voice is no longer silent and it gives them the outlet they may want or need.
It didn't matter if people thought the verdict was right or wrong, they could let their voices be heard.
On Twitter they can say what they want and their opinion can be seen by anyone with an Internet connection.
Yes.... there were protests and yes there were a few arrests, but for the most part the protests were peaceful.
Many of those protests started when the word got out on Social Media. You saw people of all races marching against what they thought was a unjust verdict.
No longer does just a chosen few that speak for a community. Now anyone on Social Media has a voice...anyone can be heard.
Sure.... there were racists comments from all sides posted on Twitter involving the Zimmerman case. But, I much rather read (or not read by blocking them) the messages of hate than see it spilling out in blood and loss of property on the streets.
Tampa Times TV Critic Eric Deggans who wrote the popular book Race Baiter and is very active on Social Media, believes I might be onto something here (bet that surprises you and much as me). He tells me that he believes that social media did play a part in helping keep the peace.
"It was easier for people that were interested in the trial to get more information by following it on Twitter," Deggans says. He thinks Social Media might have helped cut down on some of the misinformation, which he thinks might have helped sparked riots in he past.
But, Deggans also believes that history and the media predicting riots might have played a role. "The talk of riots, riots riots in the media angered many people and they were going to make sure that wasn't going to happen," Deggans said.
He also thinks that Trayvon Martin's parents taking to Social Media with a message of peace was very helpful.
I know Social Media can play a part in dividing people, but it also can open up a dialogue and maybe just maybe help keep the peace.
That's my theory and I'm going with it.