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
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. …