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Ending the rape culture online

In Steubenville, Ohio, a verdict has been handed to two high school football players finding them guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.

The case has been racking up mentions online as of late, and a lot of what is out there is absolutely, chillingly horrifying. I mean it.

I am so incredibly shocked at what some people have been saying about the case. It’s as if social media has all of a sudden invited anyone with access to the Internet to share his or her expert opinion on a case that has been stuck in the public eye.

However, not all of the publicity the case has gotten has been all bad in the social world. My amateur advice on LinkedIn can wait a few weeks. My thoughts on Steubenville cannot.

There are some benefits from social media in the case. According to some sources, social media is actually part of what helped to bring this case to authorities, by driving the information-seeking process and helping to bring charges to those involved.

Additionally, you may have heard about CNN’s poor choice in reporting when they recently made the two defendants the victims, saying how their lives were ruined. Thanks to social media, an immediate petition went up on, asking CNN to give a public apology. Users were outraged at CNN, and thanks to the ability of critical content to go viral at the click of a button, the petition had 80,000 signatures within hours of being posted.

The growing support for those outraged at CNN and other naysayers is giving dialogue to rape culture, just as it does every time a case like this appears in the news. It is my hope and prayer that this social media support and viral spreading is helping to change the deep roots in our society that contribute to rape culture.

However, there are obvious drawbacks. People all of a sudden feel like they can use social media to say whatever the heck they want to about this extremely sensitive case. People took to Twitter and other platforms as soon as the verdict was announced on Monday. I was physically sick to my stomach when I read more than several tweets on that showcased some pretty dumb people’s 140 character messages. Here are two of them to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

“Disgusting outcome on #Steubenville trial. Remember kids, if you’re drunk/slutty at a party and embarrassed later, just say you got raped!”

“There is no justice in Steubenville today. The girl asked for it and wanted it, my opinion. They gave it to her. No crime. Appeal!”

I can’t even begin to express my outrage, disgust and sadness at these tweets and those tweeting them. This is a huge issue.

While the discussion online of this case has brought about many positive sentiments (in addition to the negative), I feel so horrible for the victim’s family that they have to be in such public light right now. Twenty years ago, this would have been much more private than the nation-wide debate it has turned into. Social media has driven that publicity.

Another issue central to the case is that one high schooler took a picture of the victim and posted it online (he faced charges for doing so). I am again outraged and saddened not only at the initial rape situation, but the fact that that young boy thought to post it online. That is messed up.

So there’s how I see both sides of this heavy, sad situation. This is just one more story that demands that we think critically about how we use social media.

We need to do all we can as responsible young adults to take a stand against rape in any and every way that we can. Social media is a powerful tool, but it can be so astronomically hurtful when used inappropriately. I encourage you to take the time this week to reflect on how you can be a hero online or offline and make a difference in the world.

Change isn’t easy but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of it. #endrapeculture

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