Ariel Levy’s piece, Trial by Twitter, presents an astute recount of how Twitter lead to the identification, prosecution, and ultimately conviction of two Steubenville High School football players who raped a classmate. The article, which appears in this week’s New Yorker, supports a theory subscribed to dearly by authors of this blog; Social Media makes it harder for officers and defenders of the law to avoid prosecution of politically sensitive crimes. As Levy points out, the Steubenville case came to light, in part, because the victim’s parents presented attorneys with a “jump drive” of tweets relating to the horrible incident. The case divided a city, that was otherwise united in its adoration of its football team, making the prosecution somewhat contentious. Despite the cadre of support for the young men and although at first there was no direct evidence of the crime, the stream of Facebook posts, tweets and other social media, on which high school students posted, created a mountain of evidence that was just too hard to ignore.
In the case of the Steubenville rape, the evidence that spurred the arrests not only lead to the public outcry for prosecution but also provided a start to the acquisition of enough evidence to support a prosecution. In some cases, the social media rally sounds louder than the evidence can bear. In such an instance, we have, arguably, a “Trayvon Martin” type of situation, in which the public outcry caused an attorney general to reconsider opening a case that had previously been deemed unwinable. Ultimately, the initial call may have been right since the jury did not find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In both instances, however, we have a bit of a cautionary tale. The blaring sound of social media can not be ignored when it comes to matters of social justice.