The release of an online video related to the trial of two 16-year-old Ohio high school footballers accused of raping a teenage girl, has stirred controversy about the impact of social media on criminal prosecutions. Associate Dean Daniel Filler discussed the issue on National Public Radio affiliate KPCC’s AirTalk.
Although prosecutors in the Ohio case are saying the video released by the hacker group "Anonymous," which allegedly shows a friend of the alleged attackers joking about the rape, is not new evidence, some question whether it might affect the outcome of the trial set to start next month. Filler cautioned that social media have the capacity to amplify a message, thus making it harder to ensure a fair trial.
When evaluating the impact of social media, judges must consider whether information will spread to the jury pool or result in potential threats to witnesses, thereby affecting the outcome of the trial, Filler said. To avoid an unfair trial, judges might consider pursuing more aggressive “gag” orders, orders which impose penalties on those involved in a case for releasing information, Filler added.
Prosecutors will also have to consider the effectiveness of using social media, Filler said. The reliability of media can dissipate when evidence is first obtained through illegal hacking, Filler commented.
The ultimate consideration, however, should be how social media might not only harm individuals but society in general, Filler argued. The criminal justice system aims not only to protect alleged victims and ensure a fair trial, but also potentially rehabilitate juvenile offenders, Filler said. The risk with social media are their lasting impact, which can harm both the victim years after a crime and also convicted juvenile offenders who might once again try to become a part of society, Filler concluded.
Filler studies the effects of social anxiety on the development of criminal law. He is an expert on sex offender community notification, the death penalty and juvenile justice law.