The Effect of Social Media on the Steubenville Rape Case

On its own, the Steubenville rape case has been a gravely disturbing one, made worse by the flurry of Instagrams, tweets, and a highly-viewed YouTube video that occurred during the assault.

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Only in our Twitter feed do we see images of Kim Kardashian's baby bump alongside adamant declarations about politics, both playing an equally important role in the social media sphere. We're able to tell the world how we feel about Justin Timberlake's latest music video, but we can also help prosecutors find justice in prevalent cases.

We saw this most recently on Sunday, when two high school football players from the small Ohio city of Steubenville were convicted of raping a drunk and unconscious 16-year-old. On its own, it was a gravely disturbing case, made worse by the flurry of Instagrams, tweets, and a highly viewed YouTube video that occurred during the assault. After the alleged assault took place in August, the web quickly removed said images, but not before lawmakers had picked up on the situation.

Enter Anonymous, the WikiLeaks-esque hacktivist group. Throughout the month of December and into early January, they leaked the records of 50,000 Ohio residents, staged a protest, named multiple Steubenville officials in covering up the rape's details, and released another previously deleted video. Needless to say, the world watched as social media watchdogs banded together to bring visibility to this particular crime.

As avid social media lovers ourselves, we are proud to see how these digital platforms can help in such important matters of justice. Social media allows us to use photos, videos, and thoughts to do good — a convincing tweet to a Congressman or a strongly worded blog post to a judge has more influence than a letter in the mail used to carry.

Still, the fact that Steubenville's high school students immediately distributed some incredibly incriminating images without even thinking to aid the victim is more than troubling. Putting those photos out there for all to see caused serious harm not only to a 16-year-old girl but to a larger Ohio community as well. That's not something that can be as easily deleted as a tweet.

The revolutionary reach of social media must go hand-in-hand with the human obligation of respect. We should think before we tweet and take action outside of our iPhones when needed. As it's said, with great power comes great responsibility, and that's a mantra that shouldn't just be retweeted.