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The false rape allegations that took the internet by storm

Last week, we wrote a post about how social media is complicating the area of juvenile crimes. The ease of which young people can go online and post derogatory or inflammatory conflicts -- and then have that online battle spill over into real life in the form of physical violence -- is a major issue, and it is causing senseless crimes that have terrible outcomes. Young people are being hurt and killed because of online banter becoming all too real, and other young people who perpetuate this violence suffer serious and life-altering consequences as a result.

Today we will continue the theme of social media in the criminal defense realm, this time by discussing the case of Conor Oberst, a member of the band Bright Eyes.

Oberst was accused of rape by a woman who posted her claims in a comments section online. The woman's claim spread like a wildfire, as things are wont to do on the internet. Oberst categorically denied the allegations, but the woman persisted. Oberst's reputation was being damaged and the backlash was coming. The allegations spread from internet comment boards, to blogs, to, ultimately, some major news carriers.

And then a funny thing happened: the woman who made the claims published a statement that said she made up the rape story, and that she did so because she wanted attention during a difficult period of her life.

Though her actions to apologize are admirable, the damage caused by her lies was already done. The internet may have a short memory, but, paradoxically, it never forgets. Oberst's reputation is undoubtedly tarnished, possibly forever, and these claims will haunt him for the rest of his life -- even though they have been debunked by his accuser.

It's a lesson in online activity, and how things can spiral out of control so quickly nowadays. In a criminal defense sense, this is very unfortunate because even though someone may "beat" a charge or be vindicated in some way, the rumors, allegations and wrath of internet users may linger on indefinitely.

Source: Washington Post, "The inside story of a reputation-ruining, idol-killing Internet hoax," Caitlin Dewey, July 15, 2014

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