Following the arrests of two Torrington High School football players in the sexual assault of two 13-year-old girls, the newspaper in the Connecticut town turned to social media to see if there was any chatter about the case.
It discovered Tweets defending the accused, Joan Toribio and Edgar Gonzalez, and not the victims.
"We started seeing the tweets, that's where kind of our jaws dropped, that this would be out there in public and that the kids would be so cruel to each other," said Matt DeRienzo, top editor of The Register Citizen of Torrington.
So the newspaper put some of the tweets on Page One, setting off an uproar over the commentaries.
"When the honor roll kids' tweet—calling a 13-year-old rape victim a whore—is on the front page of the newspaper, you can't really walk away from that," said DeRienzo.
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The tweets calling the girls "whores" and "sluts" shocked parents, fellow students, and school officials including school superintendent Cheryl Kloczko. "I'm thinking these are 13-year-old girls. In my mind, they're still babies," she said. Meetings were organized, victim advocates were launched, and the school's cyberbullying policy was interpreted and reinterpreted.
CNBC's Carl Quintanilla gathered a group of Torrington High School students to talk about the case. They all knew the kids who had tweeted about the girls, and while they were offended by the words, most of them said people have a right to say what they want on Twitter. Where they disagreed was whether the newspaper should have published the tweets, which in some cases included the writer's names and picture. Jenna Gyuricsko called it "unfair," but senior Brianna Cole disagreed: "I think it was fair game. When you're putting something on a public forum like that, that anybody can see, there's no difference between it being on your Twitter and it being in the newspaper."
Four students were suspended for their tweets. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault and Toribio is awaiting trial.
CNBC tells the story behind the rise of Twitter, the social media giant whose 200 million active users have made it a fixture at home and around the world. "Twitter Revolution" arrives Wednesday, Aug. 7, 9 p.m. ET/PT.