Young peoples use of social media and mobile technologies to document every facet and event in their lives, including violent and criminal behavior, has drawn national attention to the investigation into an alleged rape of a teenage girl in Ohio.
Not only are the social media being used in support of the pending legal arguments for both the alleged victim and the defendants, but this case and others are creating the potential for a whole new courtroom dynamic between the prosecution, defense, and jury.
Malik Richmond and Trent Mays, two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, are charged with raping a 16-year-old girl at two separate parties in August. The names of both suspects, who are juveniles, are being used because a court judge, defense attorneys, and local media made their names public.
The state attorney generals office, which is handling the case, says both boys participated in raping the girl, who remains unnamed because she is a victim, while she was unconscious. Mr. Mays is also charged with the illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
Two days after the alleged attacks was reported to law enforcement, local police confiscated about a dozen electronic devices belonging to all of the individuals involved. The devices were then turned over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, which reviewed tens of thousands of e-mails, texts, and photos. Mays and Mr. Richmond were arrested three days later. They are currently under house arrest.
Prosecutors say a photo taken at the party shows both boys holding the alleged victim by her arms and legs, suggesting her unconscious state. Defense attorneys deny she was unconscious, and claim to have a text message from the girl sent to their client that says, I know you didnt rape me.
Also circulating are text messages posted to some social networks that reference that the rape happened, while the New York Times reports that a second photo snapped by a mobile phone shows the girl naked on a floor. Adding to the digital evidence is a video published online by Anonymous, the international hacker activist group, showing a group of students joking about the assault.
Is it really rape because you dont know if she wanted to or not? She might have wanted to. That might have been her final wish, one teenager is shown saying, according to CNN.
Local police say they are also tracking a possible video that is purported to show both boys participating in the violent attack.
The role social media plays in violent crimes is a relatively recent phenomenon dating back to the popularity of so-called flash mobs, which are public events involving group action that are planned and then executed using social media.
In some high-profile cases, the flash mobs have been used by gangs of youths to carry out the group beatings of strangers. On Sunday, a flash mob was blamed for a riot that broke out in Baton Rouge, La., where 200 teenagers engaged in a fight, causing the mall to be evacuated.
Law enforcement is also increasingly perusing social media sites to learn more about gang activity and get a better sense of when retaliation among certain groups will strike. For example, last year, police departments in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia announced units to investigate social media behavior among gang factions, which often use mobile technology to plan, and later brag about, violent acts related to turf battles.
In Chicago, the strategy was used to investigate Keith Cozart, a rap star known as Chief Keef, who bragged on Twitter after a rival was gunned down in September. Mr. Cozart was also known for YouTube clips in which he mocked the slain victim.
Another local rapper named Lil Reese, whose real name is Tavares Taylor, came under scrutiny in October following the release of an online video to multiple hip-hop sites that show him severely beating an unidentified woman at a party. …