“One of the worst things for these victims is that their honour is still violated. Even though the account is from December, internet violation never stops,” lawyer Arash Raoufi told The Local.
Two girls, aged 15 and 16, were convicted on Tuesday for aggravated defamation after starting up an anonymous account on picture-sharing website Instagram to collect and publish information about local teenagers, mostly girls, and their alleged sexual behaviour.
“This is just so common, in junior high it was on Facebook but more jokey, now it’s moved on to Instagram and it’s become so coarse,” Irma, 16, one of the victims, told The Local in December in the wake of the ensuing unrest that shocked Sweden.
“And it’s always about sex.”
The account went viral. When the contributors – who had been promised anonymity by the account holders – were outed, the catcalling online spread to other social media sites. In anger, teens stalked the school of a girl who had been, it later turned out, incorrectly identified as the original account holder. The mob justice sentiment set off riots among students in Gothenburg.
IN PICTURES: Click here to see images from the Gothenburg riots
Six months later, after the police discarded the investigation against a teenage girl who had been wrongly accused of setting up the account, the trial ended.
The two teen girls have been sentenced and will have to pay a total of 570,000 kronor ($85,370) in damages to the victims.
“Some people have said the fines were harsh, but I argue that they aren’t,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer Raoufi said.
“What happened simply can’t be compared to a nasty comment at a party, this is much harsher, and it sticks,” he argued.
“What’s more, I think it’s much more cowardly that these people have done it anonymously from behind their computer screens.”
He explained that some of the victims’ names and pictures still appear in Google searches, and that some youngsters in Sweden’s second largest city have print-screened the Instagram pictures and shared them again.
“Some girls say they get recognized when they go out, strangers approach them laughing and ask if they’re the tramp or the whore they saw online. The violation never stops,” Raoufi added.
One of the girls, 15, was sentenced by the Gothenburg District Court to juvenile detention, while her 16-year-old accomplice was sentenced to 45 hours of community service.
The girls got off lightly, according to the lawyer, due to their young age.
“It’s rare with these kinds of crimes to have prison sentences, in Sweden you basically have to assault someone to get sent to prison, but the court made a point of saying that these two girls would have been sent to three months in prison if they weren’t under the age of 18,” he said.
While justice has prevailed for the 38 victims, there was a lot more to the case than met the eye, according to Raoufi.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. It was only the two girls who started the account that got convicted. Think about all the people who actually sent in the pictures and the messages. They got away with it,” he said.
The account, which garnered 8,000 followers overnight, was filled with pictures of hundreds of girls, pictures that were sent in from dozens of others living in the area.
These “snitches” were never punished, as the police simply didn’t have the resources, Raoufi explained.
“I’ve talked to a lot of the victims throughout this case and they’re upset that the people who sent in the pictures will not see any justice. And I share their frustration. They’re equally liable, even more maybe,” he said.
However, the fact that police were able to track down the two masterminds behind the account was commendable work, he added. Swedish police nabbed the pair through technical evidence, tracing the IP address from one of the girls’ Facebook accounts, as Instagram is owned by the US giant.
Raoufi believes that there is a lesson in the case for other young social media users.
“A lot of young people don’t realize that even though they are anonymous, they are still bound by the law,” he told The Local.
“My advice to young people is that they should really think about what they put online. I can only hope that the news of the conviction reaches a lot of people, it’s the news they need to hear.”