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We are Big Brother: How social media led to rape convictions

Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond in the courtroom before the Steubenville, Ohio football players were convicted of rape. (AP/Pool Photo)

When it comes to police drones hovering over Seattle or surveillance cameras watching us along Alki and the waterfront, people say to authorities, “Stop, you can’t invade my privacy.”

In reality, we do a fine job of invading our own privacy every day – either by willingly posting things on social media sites, or unknowingly as friends and strangers post all around us.

Sometimes, it’s a good thing that so many eyes are watching us. If not for social media, a rape in a small town might have gone unnoticed and likely untried.

Two teenage boys were convicted Sunday in an Ohio rape case. The town of Steubenville, Ohio has about the same size population as Silverdale, Washington – about 19,000 people.

It’s one of those classic small towns where parents and children rally around the high school football team, because there’s not much else going on.

“Drunk on their own small-town greatness, they operated unaware of common decency until they went too far, wrote too much, bragged too many times and, finally, on a cold Sunday morning, were hauled out of a small third-floor courtroom as a couple of common criminals,” wrote Dan Wetzel, a Yahoo sports columnist who covered the trial of two football players.

Steubenville football players 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty Sunday of raping a drunk 16-year-old girl.

Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years in detention. Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year of detention. Mays received the extra year for a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

The judge said he reviewed the text messages, photos and video while considering his verdict and found them “profane and ugly.”

It’s not over yet. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced after the verdict that he’ll convene a Grand Jury next month, and as 16 other teens facing possible charges.

This case gained media attention for its lurid text messages, cell phone pictures and videos, and social media posts surrounding the sexual abuse of the girl.

The young criminals and their friends provided much of the evidence used against them as they posted pictures and statements about what they’d done on social media.

It started with an Instagram photo of the two players displaying their 16-year-old victim. One teen held her arms and the other held her legs.

After that, a 12-minute video from the night of the assault was posted. In it, a former classmate of the young men can be seen laughing at the girl and making fun of how “dead” and out of it she was.

Next came all the text messages from the boys. In one text admitted as evidence in court, the attacker wrote: “I’m pissed all I got was a hand job, though. I should have raped since everyone thinks I did.” They sent texts to the victim trying to get her to say nothing happened.

All of this documentation helped prosecutors build the case against the boys. What might have otherwise been a “he said, she said” incident with little evidence, turned into a world-wide story.

Even the hacker group Anonymous was in on this one, posting the video and publishing all of the names of the high school football players they claimed were involved, not just the two convicted.

The Internet never forgets and seldom forgives. Years from now, after the teens are finished with their sentences, a search of Steubenville will turn up stories about this rape case that has ruined lives and tarnished the reputation of a town and its beloved “Big Red” football program.

For those who thought social media was a fad, sorry, it’s ingrained in many people’s lives and it will become magnified as new technology makes it even easier to share video, audio, and pictures that you might not want out there. Google Glass, for example, will make it so someone can record a video of you simply by looking in your direction.

Who’s Big Brother? In George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he describes a society where everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities – through telescreens.

We are Big Brother. In our society, everyone is potentially under surveillance by their friends, neighbors, and strangers – through social media.


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