A 21-year-old man has become the latest convicted criminal that internet users have been pining for—both him and his release.
In April, Cameron Herrin was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide. Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter Lillia were struck by Herrin's car in 2018 while lawfully crossing a road in Tampa Bay.
Herrin was reported to be driving 102 miles per hour while racing with another car at the time.
Herrin's account has gained over two million followers on TikTok, where fans have since been both claiming his innocence and pining over him.
The app hosts video edits of Herrin hearing his sentencing in slow motion, which have gained a collective two billion views, along with comments advocating for his innocence. While others simply cited his apparent attractiveness: "He doesn't deserve that, he's too cute," wrote one user.
It's not the first time the app has focused on convicted killers, with whole communities for fans of the Menendez brothers, featuring similar style edits and comments.
As reported by the Tampa Bay Times however, individuals across the globe have even taken the obsession with Herrin offline.
His mother described it as "almost like an obsession, an unhealthy obsession," to the outlet, detailing how many people would call her home in the night, including from Middle Eastern countries.
Although the sentencing was just four months ago, a popular online petition has emerged online countering the decision.
"I think 24 years is too much for him, he didn't do it on purpose, it was just an accident. I want all you lovely people who think it's absolutely not right to jail the young man and for 24 years, which is worse than death," reads the petition description, which claims to be from the United Kingdom. The text's spelling has been corrected by Newsweek for ease of reading.
"We live only once," it continued. "With your help we can save him and we can get him another chance in court again. As everywhere on social media, all are talking about giving him a second chance. We should all help him, because by staying in jail for 24 years, the victim's family won't get them back, but this young boy has lost everything already being in jail."
It's unclear exactly how the petition creators and its 28,000 signatures, plan to utilise it to provide the "another chance in court," but criminal barrister Tim Kiely told Newsweek that it's unlikely to do so.
Although he acknowledges that "movements which mobilise using social media can have far-reaching impacts on the wider societal context in which cases can come to court," the social media outcry will not be able to overwrite the evidence seen by the jury only recently.
"My view is that the size of the social media stir over Mr. Herrin's conviction (leaving aside the question of how many of the petitioners are in earnest) is unlikely to make very much difference to this case," he said.
"The jury in that case will have had the benefit of seeing all the available evidence, explored in detail and scrutinised by professional lawyers and advocates. They will have received guidance from the Judge on what tests they should apply: whether and how, for example, Mr. Herrin's intent, or lack of it, would affect their decision," he said.
"And crucially, in Florida (where Mr. Herrin was convicted) as in England and Wales, the jury are given strict instructions to reach their verdict only according to the evidence they see in court, and not through conducting their own extra-procedural 'research'. This will affect both the decision to convict and subsequent sentence."
"It's for that reason that the court is best placed to make a determination as to whether Mr. Herrin can be convicted. It has made its decision. If Mr. Herrin or his lawyers believe he has a legal basis for appealing it, there are channels through which they may do this."
Attorney Mark Geragos, who is used to high attention cases having defended Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder in the past, expressed similar sentiments to Newsweek.
"The petitions rarely work directly. However their awareness can have an indirect impact," he said.
"Online interest is a double edged sword. It can't increase the scrutiny of a case and the decisions made by the participants to the detriment of an accused, but it can also garner attention to a case where there may be an injustice at work. There have been several notable cases where social media movements have resulted in clemency or recalls of participants."
Whether or not the TikTok campaign will prove to have any success, or how morally right it is, is one question, but further questions were highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times over the online communities.
Experts told the outlet that the accounts and posts on TikTok showed no signs of fakery, as accounts in support of Herrin on Twitter did. In fact, the accounts "seems to be a mix of people with an authentic opinion that Herrin's sentence was too harsh and suspicious accounts strongly resembling those used by Middle East digital marketing firms."
Twitter suspended around 900 accounts that posted about the Herrin case for different manipulation and spam policies. A spokesperson told the outlet that Twitter is currently investigating the situation and will share the findings publicly after.
Specialists told Tampa Bay Times that social media campaigns are increasing in regularity, and are used to sway public opinion for personal gain—sometimes raising stock prices or causing public distrust in countries.
Herrin's attorney John Fitzgibbons told the outlet that he doesn't believe the public support is a consequence of a campaign but instead simply the video of his hearing which went viral across the world.
"I want to make it clear, none of this activity originated with us," he said. "We don't have the technical capability or the funding."
Herrin's attorney has however confirmed that he plans to appeal his sentence.