Marina Lonina, 18, “got caught up in the likes.” That’s her excuse for why, instead of calling 911 for help, she live streamed the rape of her 17-year-old friend on the Twitter-owned app Periscope. Apparently, the steady flow of heart emojis - how a “like” appears on Periscope - simply mesmerized Lonina and prevented her from behaving like a civilized human being.
Lonina and her friend met with 29-year-old Raymond Gates, who supplied them with alcohol. Once Lonina’s friend was heavily under the influence, Gates held her down and raped her. Lonina recorded the assault on her cell phone and broadcast it live to her Periscope followers.
Initially, Lonina claimed to have live streamed the attack in an attempt to stop Gates. Next, she said that she broadcast the rape to preserve evidence of the crime. But actions speak louder than words, and the audience could hear Lonina giggling while her friend cried out the words stop, don’t, and please. Rather than use the phone she was filming on to place a call for help, Lonina used it to share her friend’s rape on social media.
A friend of Lonina’s in another state saw the broadcast and notified the police. Hence, Raymond Gates was charged with kidnapping, rape, and sexual battery of a minor. Lonina has been charged with the same crimes in addition to the distribution of child pornography.
In the New York Magazine article “Addicted to Likes, How Social Media Feeds Our Neediness,” “Instagram-famous” entrepreneur Rameet Chawla says, “I think people give too much value to the like.” He goes on to add, “People are addicted. We experience withdrawals.” The article compares watching a social media post rocket in popularity to smoking crack cocaine.
It’s hard to fathom that garnering attention on a social media app would be considered more important than helping a friend who is crying out for help while being criminally attacked. But, it happened - it really happened - and while I’m sad to say it, I’m not that surprised.
I absolutely don’t know of any situation in which I would broadcast such an appalling event. But here’s the thing: I’ve been very active on social media since the days of dial-up Internet and chat rooms. I’ve seen and heard it all. I understand the hunger for that type of attention. I appreciate the lure of your viewers pushing that “like” button. After all, we live in a world in which all you need is a certain amount of followers on the right social media app to become “famous.” One minute, you’re sitting at home alone, talking to an invisible audience on your phone. The next thing you know, you’re getting paid $5000 to record as little as a six-second advertisement for shoes or sunglasses. Yes, it really works that way - and if you don’t believe me, get on Vine and look at the “Popular Now” page.
Lonina’s lawyer, Sam Shamansky, pointed out that Raymond Gates is a much older man than the two girls he was with that night. Shamansky said in court, “You don’t want to lose track of the fact that she’s a high school student, and she and her friend were clearly taken advantage of.”
Is that accurate? Were both girls taken advantage of? I recall times in my teenage years when an older person supplied me with alcohol. I remember, very vividly, feeling thrilled to be getting away with something forbidden. It didn’t feel as though I was being taken advantage of at all. Rather, I was the one who was exploiting the system. I felt as if I were the winner in those moments.
No. The only person who was truly victimized in this case is the girl who was raped. Should an adult be buying alcohol for children? No. But for Lonina’s lawyer to assert that she was “taken advantage of” is ludicrous, and is nothing more than a diversion tactic.
Maybe alcohol combined with the sudden attention on Periscope was what kept Lonina busy filming instead of calling the police. Maybe she saw those hearts flowing on the screen of her phone and thought she would become popular - or even better, famous. But there’s that one pesky little question that keeps coming back up: why was she live streaming a rape in the first place? Even moreso, why did so many people encourage it?
Social media perpetuates rape culture to a level that is truly mind-boggling. It is unlike anything I have ever witnessed in my life. With technology, sexual assault survivors are repeatedly victimized: not only were they assaulted and humiliated to begin with, but every time someone mentions it to them on social media, they are reminded of one of the worst things that ever happened in their lives.
Case in point: Curtis Lepore raped fellow Viner Jessi Smiles in 2013. He has since taken a plea deal, received what equated to a slap on the wrist, and continued his life as if nothing happened. Jessi, however, still gets comments like the ones below:
Y’all better watch out. She might accuse you of rape.
You got raped lol.
Who would wanna rape her lmao.
Shut up you fucking slut. A real rape victim would not act like this.
Let me remind you: it is 2016. These comments are still pouring in three years later. I’m not surprised that Jessi quit Vining. I’m also not surprised that people watched and liked a live broadcast of a rape.
This isn’t the first time that Periscope has been used to broadcast sexual exploitation. In 2015, a Viner that called himself “Ainal Cavity” began broadcasting his sexual escapades with girls that he met on Tinder, without their knowledge or permission. Many people tuned in and watched his live videos while making jokes and hitting the like button. He did this for quite a while with multiple girls before he was finally called out and publicly dragged on Vine and Twitter.
Much like Marina Lonina, “Ainal Cavity” had quite an array of excuses to begin with. First, he said he covertly publicized his dalliances to be funny. Next, he said that the girls were in on the “joke.” Oddly enough, none of those girls came to his defense once he was ripped apart all over social media. My guess is that is that none of them knew what he had been doing to them, and they still don’t.
Why do things like this happen? The answer is simple: social media turns people into assholes.
The case of Marina Lonina and Raymond Gates is surely an extreme one. With that being said, I’ve seen enough egotistical bullshit on social media to last several lifetimes. As long as people have technology that supplies them with a built-in audience, no matter where they are or what they are doing, they will perform.
Most of us know where to draw the line. Most of us know that we need to help someone who is being assaulted instead of picking up our phones and filming it for the entire world to see. Most of us know not to broadcast ourselves having sex, especially when the person we are having sex with does not have the slightest clue that they are being filmed, much less have they consented to it.
But, some people – even for the most disgusting reasons - just get caught up in those likes. That’s understandable, right?