You’ve Heard of Trial by Media? Try Trial by Social Media

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The verdict in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case was just handed down: guilty for the two football players who victimized an unconscious 16-year-old girl. Adam Cohen of Time Magazine called it The Case that Social Media Won. There were some unique features: an Instagram’d photo as evidence, subsequent Tweets from bystanders and team members submitted into evidence, a district cover up that was exposed by hacker group Anonymous and LocalLeaks advocates, and a blogger that named names and placed blame in an effort to see justice done.

The verdict itself was no end, and, indeed, it starts a new story. “Justice is done” is too curt for ratings, perhaps. CNN, in a what-were-they-thinking? moment, shifted focus following the verdict over to the former defendants, now guilty and headed for juvenile detention, and spent far too long on their lost potential and how their actions will haunt their days. It was a play for sympathy exactly counter to public sentiment.

CNN’s Not the Only One Peddling Sympathy for the Steubenville Rapists

A realtime search of mentions of Candy Crowley’s Twitter handle shows a lot of negative commentary, including comments like:

… and …

This is a sample of what is mostly printable.

There are many lessons in this story, and CNN is learning one now, which is that new trials in social media can happen lightning-quick.

As for me, I can’t help but wonder if the days of eye-witness testimony are behind us, while the days of iPhone-witness testimony are now in full swing.

About Adam Preset

Adam studies social media, leadership, and many other things in Penn's Organizational Dynamics program. He also works as researcher. He can be found on Twitter as @preset.
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