Three teenage girls accused of relentlessly bullying 15-year-old Phoebe Prince until she committed suicide entered not guilty pleas Thursday, but they have already been found guilty in the court of cyberspace. Anonymous trolls have taken it upon themselves to dole out punishment through a connected series of Web sites (since taken down) created for each of the four girls charged in connection with the case -- Ashley Longe, Sharon Chanon Velazquez and Flannery Mullins, all 16, and 17-year-old Kayla Narey. (The anonymous webmaster behind the sites explains that the two boys accused in the case, Sean Mulveyhill and Austin Reynaud, are excluded because "we cannot post text calling theim [sic] RAPISTS until they are convicted and found guilty.")Since all of these 6 teens are accused of crimes and those alleged crimes are the reason for these websites, whatever legal standard is applied must be applied to all 6. Since it was not, the excuse for excluding these boys from vicious attacks has nothing to do with the legal standard of innocent until proven guilty. The person who created these web pages wanted to attack only the girls and was looking for an excuse to justify this selective attack.
This pattern of applying different standards based on gender and then providing legalistic sounding excuses for doing so is something I see repeatedly. If the police say a man committed rape, he cannot be considered guilty until a guilty verdict, but if the police say a woman lied about being raped, she can be considered guilty immediately. Both are accused of crimes but only 1 should not be presumed guilty.
This is nonsensical. The presumption of innocence is a legal concept rooted in constitutional rights given to all citizens. I don't lose my constitutional rights simply because I haven't been charged with a crime. Girls and women don't lose these rights because they were charged with non-sex crimes.
In these websites, it is important to note that a common response from those who hated these girls was for people, most likely boys and men, to threaten rape or to fantasize about these girls being raped. This shows at best a tolerance of rape, and at worst a celebration of rape, which is directly relevant to the original justification for excluding the 2 boys charged with sex crimes from attack.
The attitudes expressed in these websites contain the same toxicity which allowed these teens to justify their own bullying. Rather than being opposed to bullying those who attacked these girls on these websites set their standards based on whether they believe a particular target deserved it.
Thankfully, these websites were taken down, but unfortunately it seems it took the threat of legal action for that to happen. Freedom of speech is not a freedom to bully or to promote violence.