The company Visual.ly has come up with many incredible tools. But its latest development (I have no stake — monetarily or otherwise) fascinates me as someone who devours all forms of media and data to stay on top of trends and advise clients who want to do the same.

Using the option to create infographics, anyone can see how a topic spread across Twitter in the past 30 days, as indicated by a #hashtag. This feature also shows the most influential Twitter accounts that used and spread the topic’s hashtag.

The implications for research into cultural and media trends are profound. We can see — admittedly though just one imperfect vehicle: a Twitter #hashtag — how information about a specific topic or news item ripples through a social media site with more than 300 million accounts and that handles 1.6 billion search queries each day.

I decided to look at the spread of news about Trayvon Martin by analyzing the use the hashtag #Trayvon. As media reports indicate, Trayvon, a 17-year old African-American teenager from Miami Gardens, Fla., was unarmed when fatally shot last month. George Zimmerman, the man who says he fired in self-defense, has not been arrested as of today. He has been described in different news reports as White and as Hispanic. And the case has sparked widespread outrage and protest. Trayvon’s school has been criticized for not announcing his death to the students until almost a month had passed. The police and prosecutor connected to the case have also been criticized their conduct. And the police chief has temporarily stepped down.

In this case, I input the hashtag #Trayvon in the Visual.ly tool and created an infographic. What appeared surprised me. I expected to see use of the hashtag swell after the shooting of Trayvon. Instead, there was just one reference. That appeared on Feb. 26 — the day of the shooting. And then, weeks went by before the hashtag #Trayvon was used again on Twitter. After that, it rose dramatically.

Many observers of this tragic death charge that the mainstream press delayed and downplayed coverage because of race. This infographic shows that a weeks-long lag in spreading awareness of Trayvon’s death is apparent also through a common social media marker: the Twitter hashtag. By examining this and blogging about it, I hope to illustrate a new way that those of us who care deeply about issues in society and the media can add dimension as we explore and analyze important current events that affect our communities and our relationships with each other. I also wish peace for the young man’s family, friends and community — and for calm as justice unfolds.

#Trayvon Twitter hashtag absent for weeks after his death Feb. 26