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Social media playing key role in Steubenville rape investigation

In Steubenville, football is king, and because the sport is so important to the community, allegations that two 16 year-old high school gridiron stars raped a West Virginia girl have turned the town on its head. The boys have already been charged with kidnapping and rape. Police say friends of the suspects and the suspects themselves have inadvertently assisted investigators by Tweeting, messaging and even posting video about the event. Even though the extensive network of their friends, classmates and others tried to delete potentially incriminating material, nothing ever disappears permanently from the Internet.

It is a sordid story: Police allege the boys kidnapped a West Virginia girl, drugged her into unconsciousness, and then took her to several parties where she was urinated on and sexually assaulted before being dropped off at home. One of the alleged perpetrators is accused of taking pictures or video of the victim. What astounds authorities the most is that there were so many online conversations about the alleged attack, and no one came forward to report what was being said. Days before the crime was reported to police, pictures, video and obscene Twitter posts flew through cyberspace. Police have asked for the public's cooperation but have gotten very little.

Police say the bulk of their evidence will probably come from lab tests on physical and biological evidence taken from the crime scene, and confiscated cell phones. Investigators are also tunneling into Facebook and Twitter accounts looking for posts that, although deleted, can be recovered from other sources. Authorities say they are also puzzled and frustrated by the uncooperative attitude of parents and residents. Social media postings have been generally sympathetic to the accused players. One student suggested that the victim deserved what happened to her. Another poster called the attack "poor judgment" on the part of the players.

Enter a former Steubenville resident who now runs a national social media analysis blog. She has been collecting screen shots and deleted Tweets about the case, worried that others who took part in the crime might escape punishment. Ominous clues she found from last April on Twitter suggest another Steubenville student may have been involved in a rape that was never reported to police. The story continues to unfold.

Source: The Plain Dealer, "Rape charges against high school players divide football town of Steubenville, Ohio," Rachel Dissell, Sep. 2, 2012

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