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Vigilante justice, social media and gag orders

by AirTalk®

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A picture taken on October 23, 2012 shows the screen of a blackberry phone featuring a page with the adress of the micro-blogging site Twitter website. FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

As social media and digital technology continue to spread, they are challenging some legal and journalistic principles. In a rape case last year, Savannah Dietrich was ordered by the court not to out her attackers by name or talk about what happened to her. When she went to Twitter and did just that, she faced legal charges.

Meanwhile, in Steubenville, OH, a rape case from last month involving one girl and two boys is becoming complicated as well. Traditionally, juveniles have their names protected, whether they are victims or attackers. However, in a CNN article, the reporters write, “Although the teenagers are juveniles, CNN is identifying them because they have been publicly named by a juvenile court judge, by defense attorneys and in media accounts. CNN is not identifying the girl, who also is a juvenile, in accordance with its policy not to release the names of alleged rape victims.” This story has been chewed over by bloggers and Twitter users who published the names of the alleged attackers, thus putting them on the public record and leading CNN to follow suit.

Furthermore, in this same case a sect of the hacker group Anonymous, Knight Sec, acquired and publicized video which was being kept private by law enforcement. The video shows football teammates and friends of the attacker making lewd jokes and references about rape and the victim.

As made evident by these situations, the landscape is changing. Does the law and the media need to adapt? Or is the horse out of the barn on this? How would courts and law enforcement even begin to keep such information private? And how could the publishing of names and information impact both the victims and the attackers, both after a trial and during one?   


Gregg Leslie, Legal Defense Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Dan Filler, Associate Dean of Drexel University School of Law  

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