ORLANDO — For nearly two months, the murder trial of Casey Anthony was a living entity. It breathed daily across national television airwaves, then was reinforced nightly on cable TV programs that dissected every word uttered in the courtroom and fueled speculation on her fate.
When Anthony was acquitted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, hundreds of thousands of people captivated by the case — and certain of her guilt — poured their rage into postings on Facebook and the micro-blogging site Twitter. Those and other social media sites provided a platform and a large audience for a decibel level of vitriol seldom seen before.
The threats, both veiled and blatant, were disturbing enough to make the judge hold off on releasing jurors’ names, and to make it all the more likely that Anthony will be secretly whisked away upon her release next week.
Postings continued to fill one “I hate Casey Anthony” Facebook page on Saturday morning, with nearly 39,000 people having “liked” the page. In reaction to Anthony’s July 17 announced release date, one person wrote, “. . . maybe she won’t even make it out of jail alive.” Someone else added a picture of Anthony manipulated to give her horns and included a backdrop of flames.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a psychologist who authored “Mothers on Trial,” said the case connected with people by the millions because it taps primitive instincts rejecting the thought of a mother ever doing anything to harm her child.
“Once a mother is merely accused, she stands convicted, because the instinct is to blame the mother,” she said. “She’s an outlaw even though she was found innocent. . . . People in down times spend their waking hours looking for bright, bushy-tailed distractions. Casey and her poor daughter’s sick and sad saga will fit the bill for now.”
Even those who weren’t as enraged said they found a sort of electronic catharsis in boiling down their emotions to 140 characters and posting them in anonymity on Twitter.
Wendy Thompson squealed when she got a text message that the verdict was in, but she later was in disbelief as she heard the words “not guilty.”
Anthony was sentenced to four years for lying to police but is close to completing that term because of time served and good behavior.
“Sucks for her,” Jillian Barrieu wrote on Facebook in response. “If I was her id rather stay safely in jail . . .”
Barrieu, of East Hartford, Conn., said she felt comfortable sharing her outrage with others online.
“It was a convenient place to vent where I knew people would mostly feel the same way as I do,” she told the Associated Press on Friday in an interview conducted through Facebook messaging.
There are occasional voices of those that offer the view that prosecutors didn’t prove their case. “She’s not guilty it’s already been proven get over it . . . stop wishing someone to be dead” one man wrote on one of the anti-Anthony pages. But those items are few and almost immediately met with ridicule.
On Yahoo, Casey Anthony was a top search the week of her acquittal. The case was also fueling the popularity of those closely associated with it. Searches were up 1,000 percent for cable host Nancy Grace, who made almost nightly pronouncements insisting that “Tot Mom,” her nickname for Anthony, was guilty.
By Friday morning, nearly 2.6 million people indicated on Facebook that they would keep their porch lights on in honor of Caylee. “Caylee, I know you see this, I know you are hearing the prayers. This is for remembering you,” the organizers wrote on the page.
Also by Friday, more than 700,000 people had signed an online petition at Change.org calling for a federal “Caylee’s Law” making it a felony to not report a missing child in a timely manner.
The strong reaction has left its mark on the courtroom.
During a hearing Thursday, several media groups including the Associated Press asked the judge to release the names of jurors in the Anthony trial. Judge Belvin Perry said he normally doesn’t have an issue with releasing names, but he was mulling a delay to allow the anger — some of it pointed at the jury — to dissipate.
“You realize there are folks out there who want to do crazy things, like fillet people open, pour salt on them, and feed their legs to the piranhas,” Perry said.
He said he doesn’t want public reaction to translate into harm for people who “don’t have a choice about serving on a jury.”
Sandy Lisella of Hartland, Conn., said in a Facebook messaging conversation that while many posts she’s seen have simply been rants, others “are more substantial and thought-provoking, trying to make sense of how our legal system could conclude these results.”
“The way the story unfolded was unfathomable to the masses. It was like watching a sick movie,” Lisella said. “Social media, in a roundabout way, allows everyone to get involved in the causes that strike a chord in us.”