Social Media Case Study: the Shooting of Derek Copp

There’s an interesting regional case study in the power of social media going on right now. Last week (Mar. 12), Grand Valley State University student Derek Copp was shot by police as they entered his off-campus apartment to arrest him on suspicion of drug possession. As details have dribbled out about the case, it’s come out that he was not armed and did not resist arrest when he was shot.

Social media has played two central roles in the unfolding case:

First, the media began mining the public data on his Facebook profile for information to fill out their stories with (and have thus far used photos and videos in addition to quotes). I’ve been wondering how long it would take the media to figure out what a goldmine MySpace and Facebook are for gathering student data (I can usually get in contact with students faster through either of those platforms than I can requesting their contact information from the Student Records office).

Second, his friends quickly organized other students and have been engaging in a series of protests (primarily organized through Facebook). The first protest happened the day after the shooting (Mar. 13) and involved some 3o students. I checked the Facebook group students have been using to organize “Protest for Peace” over the weekend (Mar. 17) and it had 1,030 members.

It currently (Mar. 19) has 1,212 members and the shooting has morphed into a protest of US drug policy in general and has spread to Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. The GVSU group has 300 people signed up for a march, and the U of M group has 81 people signed up for a protest.

This will be an interesting case to follow.

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