Facebook has spent plenty of time in court lately, but now the social network is being used to present the defense’s case to the public in an ultra-high-profile court case: George Zimmerman’s trial for second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., Feb. 26.

Zimmerman’s defense team outlined its reasons for turning to Facebook, as well as Twitter, in a post titled, “Why Social Media for George Zimmerman?” on the George Zimmerman Legal Case website.

The post admitted that the use of social media by the defense in a high-profile trial was unusual, but pointed out that social media cannot be ignored, adding that its goal was to “discredit and eliminate” fraudulent websites and social media profiles, to dispute misinformation, to discourage speculation, to “acknowledge the larger significance of the case,” to provide a way to communicate with law firm Mark O’Mara Law, to give Zimmerman a voice, and to raise funds for his defense. Highlights follow:

We understand that it is unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant, but we also acknowledge that this is a very unusual case. Here are our justifications for our online efforts, and some guidelines we have put in place to help you understand what you can expect. We do understand and acknowledge the criticism that this is an opportunistic move using the event of a tragedy for personal or firm gain. Rest assured that if the controversy surrounding this matter subsided tomorrow, so would our efforts to address the perceived problems the way we feel is necessary.

First, we contend that social media in this day and age cannot be ignored. It is now a critical part of presidential politics, it has been part of revolutions in the Middle East, and it is going to be an unavoidable part of high-profile legal cases, just as traditional media has been and continues to be. We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation, and we feel equally as strong about establishing a professional, responsible, and ethical approach to new media.

We are aggressively working to identify, discredit, and eliminate fraudulent websites and social profiles that pretend to represent George Zimmerman or his legal defense team. A critical part of this effort is establishing the credibility of official digital properties that the media and the public can trust as the official voice for what is legitimate and what is not. We are also working hard to identify negative, hate- or prejudice- based Web presence and will report those to the proper authorities.

There is a tremendous volume of conversation on the Internet regarding news about this case. Some of it is based on fact; some is opinion and speculation; some is rumor; and some is malicious misinformation. We are in a position to distinguish (when appropriate) fact from the rest.

It is also important to understand that we cannot and will not comment about the facts of the case, as that is the purpose of the courts and legal process. Part of our presence online is to discourage public speculation about the facts of the case.

We have worked to shut down all of Mr. Zimmerman’s websites and social profiles. It is not in Mr. Zimmerman’s best interests to speak publicly about this case, and as he has hired us to represent him, we feel part of our responsibility to our client is to provide a voice for Mr. Zimmerman, but only when it is appropriate to do so. Please understand that, with pending criminal charges, he cannot speak freely concerning these issues.

We do intend to raise funds on behalf of our client, and when we are approved to do so, we will accept funds online. We understand that this is controversial, but Mr. Zimmerman deserves a fair trial, and mounting a defense is an expensive proposition. Moreover, during the legal proceedings, Mr. Zimmerman is unable to work, and it is inappropriate for him to raise funds on his own behalf. Funds raised by our firm will be placed in a trust fund, to which Mr. Zimmerman does not have access, and will be used to fund his defense and pay for reasonable living expenses.

The George Zimmerman Legal Case Facebook page offered further details on its presence on the social network in a note outlining its moderation policies:

It is unusual to have a page on Facebook like this for a legal defense, but there is such strong public interest about the case, we felt it was appropriate to open a forum for conversation and to provide a proper means for you to address the law firm. We want you to be able to express how you feel about the case and topics surrounding the case, and we welcome support and criticism, and we hope you find that reflected in the way we have moderated this forum.

That said, we have begun removing posts that we feel are inappropriate, and if you find your post has disappeared, it is likely for one of the following reasons:

  • It included profane and/or racially charged language.
  • It included speculation about the facts of the case, which must and will only be discussed in a court of law.
  • It was aggressively disparaging or unfairly critical of people associated with the case.
  • It was insulting to another contributor.
  • It was significantly off the topic of the thread.
  • It contained a threat.

A majority of the comments that fit into one or more of the above categories were found in threads started by visitors, so we have removed the ability for users to post directly on our wall. If you have a conversation you feel is important, message us with your post, and if we feel it is appropriate, fair, and constructive, we will post it and invite conversation.

We will not remove posts simply because they are critical of George Zimmerman or his legal defense.

Readers: Do you think establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter is a smart move for the Zimmerman defense team, or will it cause more harm to the public’s perception of Zimmerman?