Trayvon Martin: How Social Media Became The Biggest Protest

Beyonce, Rihanna, Diddy and Amber Rose weighed in throughout the case -- from Martin's death to Zimmerman's acquittal.

Twitter was practically groaning Saturday under the weight of a sea of protests from the likes of Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin last February. These tweets, scattered with hashtags like #nojustice and #RipTrayvonMartin, were just a small part of a massive social media-spun protest between the 17-year-old high school student's shooting and Zimmerman's "not guilty" verdict.

In February of 2012, Trayvon Martin was found shot and killed, George Zimmerman standing over his body holding a handgun. Martin was unarmed, wielding only a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense and walked away from the scene. He was later arrested on April 11 and charged with second-degree murder in the shooting after months of protests.

Those protests, to a large degree, were created online -- first with a petition posted to by Martin's family. That petition, made on March 8, saw support from the likes of Janelle Monae and MC Hammer, who both urged people to sign. The petition soon became the fastest-growing campaign in the site's history, netting 250,000 signatures in its first few days. It got 2,278,988 signatures total.

Justice 4 #TrayvonMartin. Almost @ 1mill. Pls sign:

— Janelle Monae (@JanelleMonae) March 21, 2012

will you help spread the word about the petition #Trayvon Martin's parents started?

— MC HAMMER (@MCHammer) March 20, 2012

In the meantime, other social protests started to bubble, starting with A Million Hoodies, a campaign and march headed up by digital strategist Daniel Maree that also had ties to the petition.

"The big impetus for Million Hoodies for me was reading about the Trayvon Martin case and noticing that there was no national news coverage of the story, noticing that the police hadn't arrested George Zimmerman and feeling that I have been in that situation before," Maree told MTV News. "I spent two years in Gainesville, Florida, as a high schooler, and I personally had experiences walking home from school sometimes. I would get stopped by the police for no reason other than I was an African American in a predominantly white neighborhood."

Maree said that the hoodie piece of the story struck him especially, citing experiences he's had in New York City as an adult where people have acted paranoid around him when he wears that article of clothing. "I saw myself in Trayvon Martin," he said. "I saw my little sister, I saw my cousin, I saw my brother."

A Million Hoodies was a two-pronged attack: First culminating in a Million Hoodie March in New York on March 21, 2012 -- as well a series of other marches across the country -- and second online, where people were encouraged to post snaps of themselves wearing hoodies. The call to action was embraced by the likes of Diddy and Nelly.

Retweet!!! to your followers. Sign the petition demand justice 4 #TRAYVONMARTIN #MILLIONHOODIES"

— Nelly_Mo (@Nelly_Mo) March 24, 2012

The movement, often hashtagged #WeAreTrayvonMartin, quickly spread throughout the Web, with everyone from LeBron James and the Miami Heat to New York lawmakers donning hoodies in support of Martin.

The spread of the meme was a domino effect, according to Maree. "Michael Skolnick, who is Russell Simmons' political director, was instrumental in getting celebrities to support this cause," he said. "He was the person who tweeted and talked to Gabrielle Union, who then talked to Dwyane Wade, who then talked to LeBron James, who then talked to the Miami Heat."

President Obama also made vague reference to the #WeAreTrayvonmartin meme during a White House press conference in late March 2012, saying: "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness that it deserves and we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

Although Maree said that a "number of things" led to Zimmerman's arrest, he does assert that "Million Hoodies certainly played a critical role in getting Zimmerman arrested," citing Pew Research Center research that shows social media attention to the case climbing after protest efforts began.

As the trial -- which kicked off in June of 2013 -- wound to a close, yet another movement was launched via avatars and Twitter feeds, this time featuring hashtags like #Blackout4Trayvon and #JusticeForTrayvon. Those using the #Blackout hashtag chose to share inky black photos on social networks, a trend that was taken up by Rihanna, Kevin Hart, Beyoncé, Ghostface Killah, Diddy and Amber Rose.

This could be my son Sebastian smh #justiceForTrayvon

— Amber Rose (@DaRealAmberRose) July 12, 2013

Although the trial has now drawn to a close, the protests online have not. A Million Hoodies has launched a petition asking the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights case against George Zimmerman, and celebrities of all ilks are tweeting their outrage. It remains to be seen if this online ire can produce IRL results.

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