When The Internet Goes After Alleged Rapists

Amanda Marcotte summarizes a Steubenville, Ohio rape story from August that has steadily spread online. Now that the hacktivist group Anonymous has gotten involved, Marcotte ponders the implications of Internet vigilantism:

Anonymous has been vital in getting out at least some of the evidence of the assault to the media. As the group shows no signs of slowing down the hacking, this is a story that could very well develop further. But the role Anonymous now plays in this case is certainly hard to reconcile, morally.

As some initial gleeful Twitter responses from students to the alleged rape demonstrate, one reason rape continues is that communities not only don't hold perpetrators responsible, but close ranks to defend or even celebrate them. By stepping in and holding people accountable, Anonymous stands a very good chance of taking action that actually does something to stop rape.

But: This type of online vigilante justice is potentially invading the privacy of or defaming innocent Steubenville residents, and even if everything published is true, there are very serious legal limits to the Anonymous strategy. Not all of the leaked allegations are attached to Twitter or YouTube accounts—many of the most serious cover-up claims, which we won't reprint here, are at this point only rumor. The allegations will infuriate you, but they don't rise to the level of real evidence that can be used to truly hold responsible those who participate in sex crimes.

A local crime blogger, Alexandria Goddard, became a crucial player in drawing attention to the case, highlighting how multiple people witnessed the alleged assault and did nothing to stop it. They even documented what transpired in social media postings and videos, which have been deleted but were preserved by Goddard.