Posted on | January 13, 2013 | 69 Comments
Call it “The Steubenville Horror”: A 16-year-old girl passed out drunk at a party with members of the high school football team in Steubenville, Ohio. She was sexually assaulted and reports quickly circulated online:
By sunrise, though, some people in and around Steubenville had gotten word that the night of fun on Aug. 11 might have taken a grim turn, and that members of the Steubenville High football team might have been involved. Twitter posts, videos and photographs circulated by some who attended the nightlong set of parties suggested that an unconscious girl had been sexually assaulted over several hours while others watched. She may have even been urinated on.
In one photograph posted on Instagram by a Steubenville High football player, the girl, who was from across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va., is shown looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. Twitter users wrote the words “rape” and “drunk girl” in their posts.
That’s from a Dec. 17 New York Times news article, which named two Steubenville players — Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond — as having been arrested and charged in August. But there were many angles to the story, including (a) the fact that others allegedly witnessed the assault and did nothing to stop it, and (b) the involvement of a blogger:
Alexandria Goddard, a 45-year-old Web analyst who once lived in Steubenville and writes about national crime on a blog, heard about the case early on and rushed to investigate it herself. She told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in September that she did so because she had little faith that the authorities would do a thorough job.
All this was known in mid-December, reported in a nearly 6,000-word article in the New York Times, and you might think this would be enough journalistic scrutiny to ensure that justice would be done in the case. It’s kind of hard to orchestrate a cover-up, or to railroad innocent suspects, once the story’s gotten that kind of attention.
Alas, welcome to the 21st century, where everyone with Internet access can play at being an “investigative journalist,” and every random rumor can be portrayed as a serious accusation which is allegedly being covered up by authorities. This conspiratorial motif and the proliferation of the Amateur Detective mentality online has had consequences in Steubenville, as Michelle Dean of the New Yorker reports:
[The New York Times article] piqued the interest of a cell of the hacktivist collective Anonymous. On Christmas Eve, the cell released what its members called a “partial dox” — a list of names and addresses, mostly — along with a threat of more leaks if the alleged perpetrators (and what Anonymous alleges are the officials protecting them) didn’t apologize to the victim by January 1st. When no apology was forthcoming, they posted the twelve-minute video, which suddenly opened up the case to the attention of clip-hungry cable-news machine. Now, coverage is everywhere.
So, apparently, is a feeling of persecution. Over the weekend, a local resident complained to ABC News that the town had been subjected to a “witch hunt.” The young man in the video had to drop out of school and has reportedly received threats, as has the town’s sheriff. Another young man’s family sued a blogger for defamation, then quickly settled and withdrew the suit without receiving any money or even a retraction. A couple of days ago, the foster father of one of the young men charged appeared on the “Today” show and said, “At the end of the day, we have the best judicial system in the world; you gotta embrace the process and let it work.”
Why do people who never set foot in Steubenville, Ohio, feel the need to involve themselves in this case, targeting people they’ve never met, and exposing these people to harassment? Doesn’t involvement of a “hacktivist collective” in this case bring with it obvious risks?
Even as a digital lynch mob is denouncing law enforcement for allegedly protecting members of the “Big Red” football team, Lee Stranahan reported Thursday that some hackers have published the name and photo of the alleged victim in the Steubenville case.
The involvement of an Anonymous cell in the case drew Stranahan’s attention. Yesterday and today he filed a series of reports at his blog:
- Steubenville Trial Transcript: No Probable Cause For Kidnapping
- Steubenville Probable Cause Hearing Transcript: Awake From First To Second Party
- Steubenville Probable Cause Hearing: Dox About Matt Belardine Contradicted By Two Witnesses
- Steubenville Probable Cause Hearing: The Urination “Joke”
- Steubenville Probable Cause Hearing: Nude Photos of Accuser Found On Trent May’s Phone
- Steubenville Probable Cause Hearing: The Drinking Defense?
- Steubenville Probable Cause Transcript: NSFW Details
This represents a substantial effort to establish the known facts of the case, to clarify details and dispel rumors. And guess what? Trolls claiming affiliation with Anonymous don’t like it:
As I’ve been covering the Steubenville story, I’ve been getting attacked relentlessly on Twitter by the same usual group of no accomplishment Team Kimberlin nobodies and their army of sock puppets. They harass anyone I talk to on Twitter, post vile slander about my family and have tried to get me fired.
Well, of course they are. Team Kimberlin is directly connected to the shenanigans in Steubenville. LocalLeaks — the site that has put out the false facts that Anonymous keeps promoting — has an attorney: Jay Leiderman.
Stranahan explains Leiderman’s association with “Team Kimberlin,” and this raises questions: What is Anonymous trying to accomplish by its digital vigilante act in Steubenville? Who is lurking behind those Guy Fawkes masks and sockpuppet accounts, and what are their real motives? What are we to make of “Occupy Steubenville” and their bizarre claims that the local sheriff is part of a conspiracy?
We don’t know the answers to those questions. But the proximity of Jay Leiderman to this story is certainly very interesting.
UPDATE: Huffington Post reports on the case:
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Shortly after Police Chief William McCafferty arrived at the office one day this week, he found an email from someone claiming to be a hacker from Ontario with a tip. Moments later, a warning message popped up, and the chief’s computer was disabled. Within hours, the FBI had the email, and McCafferty’s computer technician was trying to transfer files off the hard drive.
It was another reminder for McCafferty of the attention being paid to his department’s investigation of the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl at a party last summer by two local football players, both of whom have been charged and are going on trial next month. The chief had already been warned to stop using his home computer for fear of hacking. . . .
The FBI is investigating a Facebook death threat against the family of the local sheriff, who took his office’s website down as a precaution. Last week, a threat made on a student’s Facebook page caused a 90-minute lockdown at the high school and led the district to add unarmed guards to its four buildings.
Hacking the police chief’s computer? Threatening the sheriff’s family? Facebook threats to students? How does this kind of harassment help?