Technology: A Double-Edged Sword in the Steubenville, Ohio Rape Case

                Is technology really a double-edged sword? The recent events that have transpired in Steubenville, Ohio would seem to suggest so.

               You’re probably well aware of the Steubenville, Ohio rape case by now, especially given the massive amounts of media attention it has generated over the past few weeks. To recap, two players on Steubenville High School’s powerhouse football team, 17-year-old quarterback Trent Mays and 16-year-old wide receiver Malik Richmond, were convicted in juvenile court of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl while partying on the night of August 12. The conviction was the result of a rather speedy trial in which nearly all the evidence presented came from the social media of those involved: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and, of course, text messages.

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                We refer back to the double-edged sword analogy once again in discussing the positive role that technology played in this case. Put bluntly, Mays and Richmond would never have been brought to justice without technology. As we’ve come to learn, the victim had no memory of the period in which the rape occurred and had initially been convinced by Mays that he had actually taken care of her while she was unconscious. Couple that fact with the local celebrity treatment awarded to football players of Steubenville’s powerhouse program and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a cover-up. Mays and Richmond could easily have banked on their teammates to not rat them out, their coach Reno Saccoccia to “take care of it”, and Steubenville’s faithful fans to look the other way. The rape could have been buried quickly and quietly. That is, had social media not chronicled the night’s events and publicized it for all to see.

               Just about all the evidence presented against Mays and Richmond was found easily through social media. An Instagram photograph depicting the unconscious victim being carried by her ankles, a YouTube video showing Mays joke about the rape, a series of tweets about the night’s events, and the text message exchanges between Mays, Richmond, the victim, and others comprised sufficient evidence to incriminate the two young football players. As journalist Laura Petrecca of USA Today notes, “Even before the rape trial of two Steubenville, Ohio teens, they had been convicted on social media.” Through their use of social media, Mays and Richmond had incriminated themselves.

               In true double-edged sword fashion, there must always exist a trade-off between desired outcomes and unwanted consequences. In the Steubenville rape case, social media and technology may have brought Mays and Richmond to justice, but they also caused extensive and irreparable harm to the innocent victim. Despite her traumatic experience, the victim was confronted not with help and comforting, but rather with the cruelty of her peers littering social media. Students of Steubenville High School spared no time in sharing pictures of the unconscious girl, humiliating her with posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter, and watching videos of Mays and others joking about the rape. Because of the “snowball effect” and largely public nature of anything posted on social networks, an event that should have been dealt with by only the few involved soon exploded beyond the town of Steubenville and into the national spotlight for millions to see. Furthermore, all of the posts and pictures of the victim will likely never be taken down completely given the notion of “the permanent record that is the Internet” described in our textbook. The victim, we can assume, will have to confront the horrific experience for years to come.

                Whether it’s for the best or worst, the Steubenville rape case exemplifies a major change in the legal system spearheaded by the ever-increasing popularity and accessibility of social media. Evidence being presented in courtrooms is becoming more and more digital and can be pulled straight from one’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks. As Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz explains, “It’s the wave of the future. It’s going to change the way evidence is gathered in cases. It’s already happening.” 

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8 thoughts on “Technology: A Double-Edged Sword in the Steubenville, Ohio Rape Case

  1. I completely agree that this case was an example of the double-edged sword of technology. Without the tweets, videos, and texts this case would be swept under the rug along with most cases like it. Although this case has gotten a lot of attention from the public, will it be enough to awake young adults? The internet has given us so much but at the same time it has provided an outlet for disturbing things such as the mass spreading of videos and pictures of victims such as the girl in the Steubenville Case. Although they have been “deleted” from sites, nothing on the internet disappears forever.

  2. This post did a great job revisiting a subject that we went over in class in more detail. This is a perfect example of technology being a double edged sword that can be convenient and helpful as well as incriminating and dangerous. My only word of advice that i would have for future blog posts is to make the post a little more interactive for your reader. You did a good job including a picture but might want to consider maybe including a poll to see what the class thinks about this topic as well. Great Work

  3. I agree with the previous comments that this is a perfect example of the double-edged sword aspect of technology. To be honest as I made my way through the beginning of this blog I was convinced that the positive aspects of social media in this case would outweigh its negative aspects. The details you provided definitely proved me wrong and did a great at putting the double-edged sword into context. One thing that scares me regarding technology is this “permanent record” due to the inability of things to ever be erased.

  4. I think the most important thing to take away from this case is the way many of us perceive social media. Somehow we believe that if we post something on facebook or twitter it has entered a separate domain that is free from scrutiny. What many people don’t realize is that social media is a public forum, and that what we post has real world consequences. In this case these kids failed to realize this and their lives have been irreparably altered. Don’t get me wrong, they deserve to face the charges against them and it is great that social media has helped bring this case to light. But I’m sure there are many people in this class who have pictures on facebook that are embarrassing or controversial. They may not involve anything criminal, but it just shows the mentality we have.

  5. I think this is a really good post, and it is an important issue to discuss right now. I recently read an article about the crime blogger who helped bring national attention to this case. She used her social media skills, and in only two hours, she was able to find out a lot of information about that night from Twitter and Facebook. She then wrote a blog about it including screenshots of the evidence she found. This just shows how powerful the Internet is because this one woman played a huge role in bringing national attention to this case. The article about the woman is here: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/how-blogger-helped-steubenville-rape-case-unfold-online/
    In regards to the negative aspects of technology and social media, I think there should be a limit on bashing others on the Internet. Both the blogger and the victim have received numerous violent threats and been called terrible names via social media. There is an entire tumblr page that shows tweets of people publicly shaming the rape victim. I think there is a point when people cross a line when using social media. The Tumblr page is here if anyone is interested: http://publicshaming.tumblr.com/

  6. I completely agree that double-edged sword can be useful when catching criminals who use social media to brag, and boast their latest crime spree and in this unfortunate case rape. I first heard about the Steubenville case one morning on Sportscenter. I was at first shock by the charges and lack of institutional control surrounding the football program. In this case social media did act as a double-edged sword but also served as a check and balance system for those in authoritative positions. Social media crime analysts were able to uncover deleted e-mails, texts, facebook statuses and tweets to bring these men to justice. For other users this is also concerning that everything we put online today can one day resurface.

  7. This is a fantastic post! Great use of the double-edged sword term, and nice reference to class and textbook material. I had no idea the extent to which social media had played a role in the case, and it really is shocking. I really like your point about how if not for technology, these two football players would have hidden behind their program and fans and walked away clean. Like you said, the internet is a permanent record. Thanks for sharing!

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