In Steubenville, outrage and a cautionary message

A high-profile rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, ended with guilty verdicts on Sunday: Two prominent high school football players, accused of assaulting a drunk 16-year-old girl, were sentenced to a minimum of one year apiece in juvenile detention. After one of the boys broke down sobbing in court, some news coverage dwelled on the fact that their lives, once so promising, had unalterably changed. This led to an angry counterraction, largely expressed through social media: Where was the anger on the victim’s behalf?

In fact, social media — used by both sides — is what made the Steubenville case such a lightning rod and a cautionary tale. On the night of the assaults, the perpetrators and their friends bragged about the crimes in tweets, text messages, and videos. Those boasts, rebroadcast by hackers and journalists, became court evidence. They also sparked a string of real-world demonstrations, attracting national attention and a broad call for justice.

The Steubenville story should be widely discussed among high-school students and those who are close to them. It reinforces the notion that it’s disturbingly easy for high school and college students to fall into a culture that celebrates drunkenness and sexual assault. But it also shows how social media can accelerate and exacerbate those pathologies.