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Thumbs down: Internet threats distract Ohio rape investigation

Jan. 15, 2013 @ 10:33 PM

Computers and online communication play an increasingly important role in many criminal investigations.

Police use information gleaned from websites, smartphones and databases to build cases. Meanwhile, social media can provide leads and help draw attention to crimes and threats. But the new digital media also can rapidly spread misinformation and escalate confusion and distrust.

All of that has come into play in Steubenville, Ohio, where the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl has taken on an online life of its own.

Two high school football players were charged last August with the crimes that apparently took place on the way to and at the scene of a raucous end-of-summer party. The case gained the attention of bloggers, who maintained that other players should be charged as well, based on postings, videos and other information they found online.

With a growing chorus of social media interest, they have insisted there was a cover-up.

Some legitimate questions have been raised, but recently the campaign has taken an ugly turn. Police computers and school websites have been hacked, the FBI is investigating a Facebook death threat against the family of the local sheriff, and another online threat prompted a 90-minute lockdown at the high school.

That type of harassment does nothing to further the investigation. Many well-meaning people have voiced valid concerns on social media, but in the end, the case will be decided not on the Internet, but in the Ohio courts.

It is time to provide investigators with any pertinent evidence, and let the justice system do its job.

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