By Tracy E.
During the Super Bowl, with 13:22 left in the third quarter, the lights went out in the New Orleans Superdome. The TV was quiet, since the newscasters electronic equipment wasn’t working.
The Super Bowl was dark and no one knew why. The first thing I did was go on Twitter. And it wasn’t just me – apparently, in the thirty-five minutes of #lightsout Super Bowl, Twitter reported 231,500 tweets per minute.
Social media has changed how we get the news, how we respond to the news, and how we create the news. In fact, for all the millions of dollars spent on Super Bowl commercials, arguably the best ad of the night was a tweet. Within minutes of the blackout, the team at Oreo Cookies posted a graphic to Twitter with the tweet “No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” As of now, the tweet has since been retweeted by 15,283 users – 10,000 retweets were in the first hour.
The pervasive impact of social media on our culture and our society is apparent. But what about social media’s impact on law and our legal system?
In Steubenville, Ohio, members of a high school football team allegedly raped an underage girl and possibly urinated on her body over the course of one evening last August. The young men involved used social media to memorialize the night – tweeting updates, posting on each other’s Facebook walls, and uploading videos to YouTube. Everything that was uploaded to the Internet was taken down soon after.
However, before the high schoolers could entirely erase their social media footprint, local crime blogger Alexandria Goddard took screen shots of everything these boys had posted online. These images have not only been published to Goddard’s own website (which led to Goddard being sued for defamation, charges that have since been dropped), but they have also become the foundation of the prosecution’s evidence in a rape case that has been brought on the victim’s behalf.
The case really gained public attention not because of the crime itself, but because of the town’s response to the crime, and to Goddard’s blog posts. Many Steubenville locals in this football-crazy town criticized Goddard and the victim for bringing negative attention to their football team. Recently, the cyber activist (hack-tivist) group Anonymous leaked a twelve-minute video filmed by team members hanging out together immediately after the crime took place, while the victim was still in a room nearby and the crime was still in progress.
The backlash against the town’s initial reaction has been intense. In fact, an attorney for one of the defendants in the case asked for a change in venue given the case’s publicity, citing media attention and an explosion in online postings. The request for change of venue was denied.
A trial date has been set for March 13. The judge recently decided that the media will be allowed in the courtroom for the trial proceedings, a decision otherwise unusual for such a personal crime, but, in this case, quite fitting.
This post is not simply about the shocking nature of the crime and the football-crazy town’s need to protect their sport, but also about the tremendous role that social media has played in this story from the beginning.
Social media exposed the crime, and social media will be used against the criminals. And all because a little birdie told Alexandria Goddard that a rape had been committed in her hometown. It will be very interesting to see how the trial plays out – I’m sure I’ll be reading about it online. Tweet tweet.