Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed today for his conviction in the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail 22 years ago, despite an intensely focused social media and Internet campaign urging Georgia authorities to grant clemency or stay the execution.
Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.
The case — which rallied hundreds of thousands of everyday citizens, fired up advocacy groups, and sparked interest from statesmen and celebrities — is ushering in a new age of digital death penalty activism.
Propelled by a recent flood of digital media, including Twitter traffic and online petition requests, the Davis case has catapulted to the national forefront. Many of the facts of the case — Davis’ own father was in law enforcement, the lack of DNA evidence linking him to the crime, and the parade of witnesses who have recanted since the original trial, to name a few — have captured many average Americans’ attention.
Websites, Facebook pages, Twitter Feeds and articles that are just a Google search away are providing a forum for more information, and an avenue for activism to keep attention focused on the issue.
Through these avenues, citizens are learning the facts of the case, and in many instances, meeting up with activists. As a result, there are thousands of everyday people flooding the Twitter feed, hashtagging #toomuchdoubt, “liking” Facebook pages, and signing online petitions on Davis’ behalf.
Many of the online efforts are organized by Amnesty International, Change.org, ColorOfChange.org, and the NAACP.
Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Camp said, over a million people are aware of the campaign, thanks to social media. Moye and others delivered petitions with more than 633,000 signatures, 200,000 of those electronic signatures gathered by Change.org, to the parole board in a high profile media event last Friday.
According to NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, “When the state executes an innocent person, every citizen is implicated in the act,” adding that his agency’s choice to garner public support using social media was a no-brainer.
Jonathan Perri, a senior organizer on criminal justice for Change.org, says the Davis case is unique for “how broad the outpouring of support is.”
A quarter of a million people have signed the group’s petition to withdraw Davis’ death warrant, becoming one of the most popular campaigns ever for Change.org.
The convicted man’s sister, Martina Correia, is a media-friendly former soldier who has fought tirelessly on her brother’s behalf. She is credited with keeping the story alive by promoting new testimony that suggests the prosecution’s main witness might be the killer.
The list of those joining her campaign represent a wide cross section of the population, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Indigo Girls, Cee Lo Green, 51 members of Congress, Bianca Jagger, former FBI director William S. Sessions, Mia Farrow, Pope Benedict XVI, and other church leaders.
Executions are less common today, numbering near 100, than they were in the 1990s, when three times as many people faced the ultimate sentence. The decrease has sharpened focus on the cases that make it through the legal labyrinth.
This heightened awareness also motivates groups to mobilize, as Davis’ case illustrates, and the digital tools in today’s information-rich age can arm them with more information than was possible previously.
Despite the popular support, Davis’s last legal appeal was rejected Tuesday morning by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and many will be watching, tweeting, and chatting online to see what the state does today.