A Brief Look at How the Steubenville Rape Trial has Affected Social Media & Legal Cases

Normally, I don’t like to take things too seriously. I prefer to be happy than morose. However, I feel that the events surrounding the Steubenville Rape Trial, and subsequent repercussive events, are worth discussing because of the nature that the internet and social media played during them. Please bear in mind this is a class blog, and not a super in-depth study, so I will be lightly touching on many areas. 

For note, this post is not an examination of guilt or innocence, let alone a look at the case itself. Rather, it is an examination of how the internet and social media affected the case, and the general public. 

It goes without question that both the internet and social media had an incredible impact on this case. If it weren’t for either, then the allegations, arrests, and sentencing would never have existed. Tweets, texts, Instagram images, and videos like the despicable one taken of Michael Nodianos released by a branch of Anonymous helped authorities forge a concrete platform to work from for building their case (I have decided not to link to any of them. If you really want to read/watch them, and subsequently ruin your day/weekend, you can find them easily enough). Here, I can’t help but think about the Marwick & Boyd article, as they mention how “Technology complicates our metaphors of space and place, including the belief that audiences are separate from each other”. Needless to say, none of the teens involved in that night were thinking outside of their imagined audience. However, all of the SNS go beyond our imagined audiences and into the total audience, so long as people search hard enough to find what they want to. 

The effects of those posts/tweets being released had a huge impact on public opinion. Bloggers spoke their prose, people tweeted their opinions, Michael Nodianos conveniently takes a leave of absence from The Ohio State University after his video is released, the branch of Anonymous who got themselves involved in the case did what they do best (releasing any and every piece of information to vilify those involved). The town of Steubenville itself created a homepage to help combat what it was considering unfair coverage in media, traditional and new (matching Schau and Gilly’s idea of the homepage being constructed for the public, unlimited and undefined). Some argued that the outcome of the case was determined before the courts made a decision. As per the usual, too, there were acts of victim blaming on the internet (which subsequently lead to the arrests of two girls who were using social media to bully the Steubenville victim), and the outrage of the public following the guilty verdicts, and the major news sources victimizing the two perpetrators found guilty. All of this online, which is the main point of interest to me.

This case was discovered, discussed, and decided because of the use of social media and the web. The importance of this goes back to the discussion of context collapse. While in this case the context is clear, what it implies is that, from now on, what you post online could be effectively used against you in legal cases, regardless of the context. You could be innocent, and found so, in a case, but when that one Tweet or picture is brought up to break your character in court, that stays forever. It seems that the Steubenville Rape Trial has opened a brave new world of legal procedure, where any and everything we do is a potential piece of clearing, or damming, evidence. 

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