Friday, December 13, 2019

Outdated... On How Snopes Judged The Verity Of A Case About The Steubenville Rape.

The case was this one:

In late 2019, a years-old story about a hacker sentenced to prison in a case stemming from the infamous Steubenville High School rape in Ohio circulated on social media, even though the subject of the story had already been released from prison.
The story in question originated on the Russian government-funded network RT with the headline, “Hacker who helped expose Ohio rape case pleads guilty, faces more prison time than rapists.” It was published on Nov. 25, 2016, and reported on the indictment of Deric Lostutter.
Here are the facts: When Lostutter was indicted in July 2016, the then-29-year-old faced up to 16 years in prison. And when Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, both of whom were Steubenville High School football players, were convicted of raping a girl and distributing images of the assault on social media in 2013, Mays was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention while Richmond received a one-year sentence.

To complete that summary, note that Deric Lostutter's hacking was reported earlier by the Rolling Stone magazine in November of 2013:

On November 25th, the most notorious rape case in recent memory took yet another shocking twist. In Steubenville, Ohio, where a 16-year-old girl was raped by two high school football players in August 2012, a grand jury indicted the city’s School Superintendent, Michael McVey, on felony charges of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. An elementary school principal and two coaches in the district were indicted as well, facing misdemeanor charges including failure to report child abuse and making false statements.
Shortly after the news hit that morning, Deric Lostutter, a skinny, scruffy 26-year-old programmer in Lexington, Kentucky, whipped out his cell phone and texted me a message. “We were called liars and more,” he wrote, but “we were right about it.” He had reason to feel vindicated. As one of the most notorious members of the hacker collective, Anonymous, Lostutter battled to bring justice to Steubenville, exposing secrets of a town that’s still reeling from the fallout today. He just never expected that he’d get raided by the FBI, and face more prison time than the rapists in the end.

Thus, it is not true that the original story came from RT, the Russian government-funded network, because it had already been reported in US media, though RT re-ignited the conversation.

Snopes' final assessment of the truth of all this is "outdated!"  The author of the Snopes post makes good comments about the difficulty of comparing federal and state sentences with each other and about the different age categories of the Steubenville rapists and the hacker (the latter was an adult in 2013, the former were not).  But "outdated?"

Here's the justification for that Snopes decision:

Because this story is years old at the time of this writing, and every person incarcerated has now served time and been released, we are rating this claim “Outdated.” We further note that because of the varying factors in each case, they make poor comparisons. Also, Lostutter did not serve more time in prison than one of the Steubenville rape defendants served in juvenile detention.

I disagree with that take on the story as outdated.   

Snopes tells us that they use "outdated" when "[the] rating applies to items for which subsequent events have rendered their original truth rating irrelevant (e.g., a condition that was the subject of protest has been rectified, or the passage of a controversial law has since been repealed)".

That the incarcerated have since been released does not make the original study irrelevant, because it never was about the individuals involved in the Steubenville horrors.   It was about the way culture often privileges accused rapists over their alleged victims and even over those who want to rectify that problematic situation.  To actually find this case "outdated" would require, for me at last, that the legal treatment of rape victims and those accused of rapes was made fairer so  that another Steubenville could not happen.

And sure, I understand that the RT had different goals in re-publicizing this case.  And I also get the other differences which affected the sentencing of Lostutter and the two convicted rapists.  But the issues raised by this debate are certainly not outdated.