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Steubenville Rape Verdict: The Future of Criminal Law In the Era of TTIWWOP

‘I’m stealing a #donut…I like stealing donuts…’

Yesterday, Judge Thomas Lipps handed down a guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape case. For those living entirely under a rock, the Steubenville rape case involved two teen football players in Ohio, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, who carried an overly intoxicated 16-year-old girl from party to party, sexually assaulting her along the way.

The case garnered national attention after multiple pictures and videos of the events — some callously indifferent and others actively supportive of the rape — surfaced on the Internet, and the slow initial response of law enforcement triggered accusations that the local sheriff, Fred Abdalla, attempted to cover up the assault to protect the Steubenville football team.

Others have more eloquently explored the implications of this case for attitudes about sexual violence and social media generally. But the events in Steubenville speak to a cultural shift that will lord over criminal law for the next generation: the compulsive desire of jackhole criminals to document everything makes them really easy to catch.

TTIWWOP is Internet lingo for “This Thread Is Worthless Without Pictures.” It’s a “see it to believe it” culture. Smartphones and social media make documenting every event in real time a simple affair. Those who’ve grown up with this technology available for most if not all of their lives fail to grasp why someone wouldn’t record everything. If it’s not on social media, how can it be real?

Including rapes. The Steubenville pair seemed to revel the Instagrams and YouTubes recording their crime as it happened. They self-identified as part of the “Rape Crew,” for God’s sake. Criminals who aren’t seeking publicity don’t create groups named after their crimes.

Those willing to dismiss this as an isolated instance of incredibly stupid kids doing incredibly criminal things on camera are missing the growing trend of criminals posting their transgressions. Take Rodney Knight Jr., who broke into a house and posted a picture of himself with stolen property on the victim’s Facebook page. Or Hannah Sabata, the 19-year-old who posted a video of herself on YouTube confessing to robbing a bank and stealing a car. Or Houaka Yang, who at least had the smarts not to post to YouTube himself, but nonetheless recorded himself explaining his crime on a camera later recovered by police. Or these guys, who reportedly posted a search-optimized clip of their alleged assault to YouTube. Or every one of these idiots.

Certainly some of the next generation of criminals will uphold the tradition of discretion handed down from their criminal forebears. But many will continue the trend of broadcasting their crimes to the world and making the job of law enforcement startlingly easy. An entire day of the Steubenville trial focused on the string of texts, Tweets, pictures, and videos documenting the crime. One officer testified that he reviewed thousands of pages of data off one phone.

Some argue that this case should make teens rethink social media:

The current court case provides an inherent warning for teens and how social media can be abused, said Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

“You’re not talking to a person in front of you, you’re talking to the whole world,” Hanna said outside the Jefferson County Juvenile Justice Center this afternoon during a break in the trial.

Maybe. Obviously anyone witnessing a crime should call the police rather than take a picture. But if you’re the kind of person planning to commit a crime anyway, I think I speak on behalf of everyone and humbly request you continue documenting every step of it on the Internet. In a world where people are wrongfully imprisoned all the time, it’s refreshing to have criminals giving law enforcement an assist.

Steubenville rape trial: Case shows social media can be positive and negative [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
8 Dumb Criminals Caught Through Facebook [Mashable]

Earlier: World’s Dumbest Criminal Would Like to Add You As a ‘Friend’
Alleged ‘Hoodlums’ Upload Assault Footage to YouTube, Lead Police Right to Them
He Trolled the Law, and the Law Won

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