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Commentaries on this Media!

"Rape Culture" and the Social Media

by Ethan Tussey

by April Cobos for IN MEDIA RES

This is a large portion of the video made by a friend of one of the convicted men in the Steubenville rape case after he received photographs of the victim on his cell phone. Examining this video reinforces the impact of the original photographs being circulated from the perpetrator’s cell phone to friends’ cell phones and then to other forms of social media. The photographs, and the video, were then picked up by online newspapers and websites, and further discussed, shared, and argued via the comments section of these online venues, as well as Facebook and Twitter. The social media fueled case is an example of how a rape victim’s pain is circulated, contested, and examined in the public eye. In relation to social media and sexual assault cases, I am interested in how the language use in the news and social media often perpetuates stereotypes and assumptions about sexual assault. Social media has allowed for a rise of rape culture language use where spectators and social media onlookers determine the validity of sexual assault cases. In the Steubenville case, in particular, social media commentators contest whether the victim was truly a victim of rape. Barbara Johnstone (2008) suggests aspects of sexism such as this are embedded in familiar ways of talking in cultures and communities that are often more dangerous than overt language. This also invokes Shannon O’Hara’s (2012) argument that the news media, and I argue the social media too, perpetuates myths and stereotypes regarding the circumstances of rape, which is problematic because of the media’s role in shaping public opinion. The research I have done thus far suggests there is also a different cultural perception portrayed in media outlets of sexual assault in America versus the perception of what is occurring in nations such as India, where the rationalization behind these assaults are instead suggestive of faults of that particular society and distinctly separated from American cases. The Steubenville case is a pertinent example because it exemplifies the conflicting role social media plays in sexual assault cases. On one hand it affords empowerment like in India, where it is used as an outlet for gathering a rally cry against the defendants. Even in the Steubenville case, it was vigilantes who actually exposed the video to social media outlets, but the video and photographs instead became fuel for rape culture banter over the validity of sexual assault cases.

Steubenville and Circulating Pain

Home movies of teens reacting to steubenville rape case

from Boys Making Light Of Steubenville Rape Victim! (2013)
Creator: TNN Raw Uncut
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey