LOS ANGELES —
Certainly, social media can be wielded as a weapon. Each classmate who "liked" an Instagram photo of the unconscious girl being dragged by her hands and feet, or tweeted to the world that she was a "whore," participated in her victimization. But as the course of this prosecution shows, social media can be a powerfully positive tool in fighting sexual assault, too. Cellphone videos can be forwarded to authorities, not circulated as jokes. Text messages can be used to identify rapists, not shame victims. And photos can establish central facts, not publicize humiliation.
Unfortunately, Judge Lipps didn't warn teen-agers to reassess the attitudes that led to this sexual assault in their community, or the beliefs that inspired bystanders to side with the rapists over the victim. Instead, he told them to watch how they "record things." It sounds like he's advising teens to cover their tracks better, not to prevent rapes in the first place. Social media is a way of life. Rape doesn't have to be. And the more teens joining a discussion about it on social media, the better.
Hess is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She blogs for DoubleX on sex, science, and health. Tweet at her @amandahess.