“She got caught up in the likes,” he said.
We all know that sentiment in some capacity or another: the ego boost of a well received profile picture, the righteousness of an applauded political sentiment, the satisfaction derived from giggles surrounding a clever meme.
But that’s not how Marina Lonina got her social high back in February. No, she got that buzz from broadcasting the rape of her friend on the social platform Periscope. As the New York Times reports:
The teenager, Marina Lonina, 18, faces a spate of charges as severe as those facing the accused attacker, Raymond Gates, 29. Both have been charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and pandering sexual matter involving a minor.
On the evening of Feb. 27, all three were gathered at a residence in Columbus where Mr. Gates pinned the 17-year-old down and raped her as Ms. Lonina used Periscope, an app owned by Twitter, to live-stream the attack, the authorities said.
A friend of Ms. Lonina’s in another state saw the video and contacted the authorities.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty on Friday.
The defense is arguing that Marina is just as much a victim as her friend. She’s only 18 years old, after all. He was ten years their senior, after all. He had plied them with vodka, after all. And as she told the police, she was simply trying to preserve evidence.
Was Marina herself being exploited by an older man? Arguably yes. But was she an innocent bystander as her boyfriend raped someone she called a friend? Not remotely.
You don’t live stream an assault to stop it. You have a phone that’s capable of live streaming in your possession? Good. Then you’re probably also in possession of a phone capable of calling 911 or texting someone in search of immediate help. You don’t broadcast the assault to an audience in no position to intervene. It took the actions of someone in another state for the authorities to become involved. That the police were eventually contacted doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter to the young girl being raped at that moment. It didn’t stop a thing.
Is the recording now being used as evidence against the assailant? Yes. And in a world where rapists are rarely convicted, that’s a potential silver lining here. But if you have a phone that’s capable of live streaming, you also have a phone that’s capable of collecting such evidence without broadcasting it for public consumption. It is, believe it or not, entirely possible to record something without sharing it with the world. To be fair, her SD card could have been full from all the nude photos she’d snapped of her vulnerable friend the night before. Was that about evidence, too?
Marina wasn’t trying to stop the rape. She wasn’t trying to collect evidence. She did it for the likes.
There is no denying that social media has become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, shrinking the world through connection and information dissemination. It can educate and inspire and entertain. It can provide support and solace. When used by a collective, it has the power to do a lot of good, as evidenced by associated movements like #BlackLivesMatter.
But in the never ending quest for attention, it can also be a dangerous drug. Marina is just one very obvious cautionary tale.
Too often, we become obsessed with projecting the “right” image, losing ourselves in the process, losing sight of our self-worth along the way. We do it for the likes.
So frequently, we bypass meaningful conversation on important topics, leaning on one liners and gifs and emoji, losing an opportunity for understanding, losing hope that things can improve. We do it for the likes.
More and more, we collectively shrug at the offensive and ignorant and vile, clicking hide and unfollow instead of calling it out, losing our shot at making the world a better place, losing our chance to do our part. We just can’t sacrifice those likes.
I get it. I’m guilty of it too. It’s a one-click affirmation world. We’re just living in it. And we’re not like Marina, so it’s all good. Right?
But listen: even if you believe Marina was trying to stop the assault, even if you applaud her attempt to gather proof of the attack for an eventual prosecution, you cannot ignore the power of the almighty like in this story. You cannot look past the views and the hearts and the chats that frame this crime. So even if you’re uninterested in discussing Marina’s culpability, let’s talk for a minute about our own, because maybe, just maybe, we’ve been doing it for the likes for so long that we’re missing the forest for the trees.
Face facts. A young woman’s assault was turned into a social experience with an eager audience. A video of a young girl begging the man on top of her to stop and crying out in pain still might not be enough to convict her rapist. It’s an ugly reality, an ugly world. But none of this should surprise you.
It’s a world where our religious institutions are fighting legal reform that would offer justice to traumatized victims because they know it will hurt the Church.
It’s a world where our partisan priorities have given way to a leading presidential candidate who can openly degrade women and still soar in the polls.
It’s a world where our cultural icons advance the idea that young women should be taught to assume their attire, their bodies, and their existence is to blame for the criminal behavior of helpless men.
It’s a world where our media uses sex and rape interchangeably while discussing allegations of assault.
It’s a world where any attempt to discuss these problems, to really expose the depth and breadth of rape culture in our society, is met with derision and laments of political correctness run amok.
Though the headlines might be fresh, none of this is really new. It is, however, made more dangerous by the connective power of modern technology and how we use it. In this sense, Marina was inevitable: the product of a digital era desperate for validation and comfortable with the normalization of sexual violence.
It’s our world. We created it. We live in it. We consume and deflect and accept and tolerate and laugh and promote and share and retweet and reblog and like and like and like and then act surprised when Marina is more interested in entertaining a perverse audience than the safety of her friend.
She did it for the likes. But from where I’m sitting, there’s not much likable about the world in which she did.