Has Public Trial by Social Media Killed ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’?

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The recent spate of allegations against celebrities and normal folk alike, as well as the success of the #MeToo movement, have led to what many call a breakthrough on the silence and stigma of sex crimes, especially by offenders who consider themselves untouchable

However, with the desire to encourage other victims to come forward, people, especially the ones around our age, have decided that with this sort of crime the accuser is automatically right and the accused wrong. Public trials in the media, especially those on social networking sites, have led to well-intentioned people deciding guilt before they’ve even heard the facts, told to always believe the victim. In short, I have noticed on Twitter a distinct disdainful or disturbed reaction to that most important of freedoms: habeas corpus.

Sometimes this has little negative outcome, such as when the likes of Spacey and Weinstein admit that they are guilty early on, and we are able to judge them correctly. However, when the likes of Kavanaugh are pleading their innocence, this new attitude becomes dangerous. Kavanaugh bares a striking resemblance to Alex Goldman, a student who was accused of a brutal sexual assault by his classmate, was assumed guilty until proven innocent by his university and was thrown out without a trial. To many, that may sound like the correct course of action until recent science and the law proved his innocence, leaving him a man destroyed in reputation and spirit by a false accuser. With this in mind, I can’t blame him one bit for his lawsuit against her of $6 million. And don’t make the same mistake of thinking that when women are accused, there’s the same presumption of guilt.

The likes of Melanie Martinez, the prominent #MeToo campaigner Asia Argento, and others have been treated as innocent by nearly all social media as they ought, with a disturbing double standard emerging against men, something so impossibly rare that it ought to show you how severe the problem really is. I don’t know if Kavanaugh is innocent or guilty. But the point is neither does anyone. That’s why we have courts and the legal system, to determine beyond all reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed by the person standing trial. You and I both know that Goldman is innocent because of this very rigorous process, and the money he’s suing for is the reflection of a life once, and indeed he fears forever, destroyed, much like Kavanaugh expressed in his hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Is this system perfect? By no means. We can all think of a high-profile case or two where somebody got off when they shouldn’t have, with experts today saying modern technology has enough to send OJ away for his double homicide a few times over. That doesn’t mean that innocent until proven guilty isn’t of fundamental importance to our democracy and freedoms. Think of the thousands of black men who were accused of raping white women in the Jim Crow South and received no such presumption of innocence. Think about the black men who still don’t get that right today when encountering the police. And when you’re doing your thinking please try to remember, protecting victims has nothing to do with persecuting the accused without a conviction.

Alexander Wilde

(Image Credited to Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)