I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cyberbullies

I've been sickened by the story of Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. He did it because the other two young people in this picture spied on him through a web cam in the privacy of his room and watched him having sex with another male student. Then Ravi streamed the video to his 150 Twitter followers. It's all over the news, and I can't help but think about Tyler's death and the shattered lives of Ravi and Wei, who were arrested and then released.

Tyler was a gifted musician who didn't know he was being watched during those moments of intimacy. I've wondered how I would feel if I found out that I had been spied on while having sex and decided that the sense of betrayal and invasion would be huge. All three of them were Rutgers freshmen and only 18 years old. You don't learn much about the rules of college in three weeks, that's all the longer they had been away from home and away at school. But I think Ravi didn't realize how awful a crime he was committing by spying on his roommate. If he had thought about how he would feel if the tables were turned, maybe he wouldn't have done it. But when you're 18, you don't think about consequences the way you do when you're an adult.

Tyler was a sweet, shy, gifted musician who had asked his roommate for the dorm room for a few hours. He didn't know what had happened until rumors started to spread about what Ravi had done and who watched him having sex. The last thing he did before heading to the bridge was to practice with another musician (who said he didn't know anything was wrong) and then take his wallet and cellphone out of his pocket before jumping off the bridge. I can only imagine the turmoil going on in his head.

An article published today on NJ.com has shown that this suicide and the act itself, all happening during the run-up to National Coming Out Week, is causing ripples throughout the world. Already action has been introduced in the New Jersey legislature to stiffen the criminal penalties for cyber-harrassment. Ellen DeGeneres put a plea on her program to ask people to be kind to each other and help to keep something like this happening again. And this tragedy is only one of four similar suicides at schools around the country since school began, all because of young kids being unable to handle the cruelty that others showed toward them because of being gay.

I keep waking up at night thinking about things, and this suicide keeps coming into my thoughts. It's because the world of instant media and streaming videos has become so easy to access, and young people don't seem to know how to handle it. From that article:
"Intolerance is growing at the same time cyberspace has given every one of us an almost magical ability to invade other people’s lives," said Robert O’Brien, a Rutgers instructor who says he has, by default, become a spokesman for "overwhelmed" lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus.
 The juxtaposition of, as he says, an almost magical ability to invade other people's lives with thoughtless intolerance has caused this outcry. It's a sign of our times, and when you think of Facebook, Twitter, and web cams on every little device in our pockets, I guess this collision of values was inevitable. But I would have thought that this kind of invasion of privacy would only appeal to sick voyeurs.

Those two young voyeurs are probably very sorry about what they did, but it's too late for them, too. Their lives are irreparably changed because of this act, whether it was unthinking or premeditated. It doesn't matter: I'm sure they are in hiding somewhere, not going about their business at school as if nothing ever happened.

Our world is changing so fast, and technology is not only our friend (making it possible for me to write this and state my opinion) but also very much like a loaded gun in the hands of children.

15 comments:

Star said...

I hadn't heard about this story until I read it here. Makes you think, doesn't it. Over here the news is all about a suicide website where people who want to commit suicide can meet and discuss with the idea of actually doing it. Last week two complete strangers found each other on the site, met and killed themselves in a car using a poisonous gas. They had never met up with each other before. The internet has given so many people so much more freedom but it works for good and ill.
Such a sad indication of our times!
Blessings, Star

Gigi said...

I've heard of this - and another one just this morning about a young teenager - it completely sickens me. I'm sure that the two didn't think about the ramifications of what they were doing, but still. The total invasion of privacy - and sharing it with the world? There is much to be learned here. More that we need to teach our children. Yes, technology is great and wonderful but it can also be a horrible tool used cruelly.

Linda Reeder said...

Pressing that button, the one that says 'Send' or 'Share' is such a simple act, yet so irreversable. What was once intimate knowledge is now out there for the world to see. Humans have always had a penchant for cruelty, but now what seemed like a simple prank becomes a devastating outing. And the destruction spreads not only to the intended victim, but to the perpetrators, who become their own victims.
We must all be careful.

Norma Jean said...

This was a sick, cruel thing to do. In this age of instant communication we need to stop and think about what might happen if we do something impulsive. This is becoming all too common. What should we do? Make examples of some of these perpetrators or just shrug our shoulders and say, "Oh well, s--t happens.

I think we are becoming desensitized to all the things we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

PeterDeMan said...

Young age or not, I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for the two kids who posted those videos. Even at 18 most people have a definite sense of what is right vs. wrong and this scores really, really high on the "wrong" scale. I have little doubt they are suffering to some degree and, as intolerant as this sounds, I hope they suffer legal punishment also. Regardless, they'll live thru it; this young man didn't. I suffered greatly from similar cruelty when I was very young (terrible case of scalp Ringworm)... for almost five years; thankfully there was no internet then. Am thinking of writing my own blog someday about that experience. 'Nuff said.

Jo said...

The Assistant Attorney General for the State of Michigan, Andrew Shirvell, has been bullying and stalking (physically and cyber-stalking) the president of the student body, Chris Armstrong, a student at the University of Michigan, who also happens to be gay. No one has put a stop to it. The Attorney General for the State of Michigan has said it is perfectly legal. It's sickening beyond belief. If you Google Andrew Shirvell, you will come up with all sorts of videos where this guy is bullying Chris Armstrong. Andrew Shirvell is a creep.

People seem to look the other way when bullying goes on, until someone commits suicide. We have had young children here in Vancouver who have killed themselves because of bullying -- and yet it still goes on.

How on earth can any laws be passed to stop it, if the Attorney General for the State of Michigan won't even stop his own assistant from doing it?

gigihawaii said...

Terrible to think about! I cannot bring myself to read more about this topic. It's sickening.

#1Nana said...

This was a terrible tragedy. I continue to be surprised about what kids post about others and themselves online...and as I write this I realize that it isn't just kids. This medium does make it so easy for us to share but still maintain a sense of anonymity.

Linda Myers said...

So sad. A terrible outcome for all three of them.

Nick Thomas said...

It's just a horrible story.

gayle said...

This is a sad sad story! I so hope that kids will learn from this!! So many lives are now ruined because of their thoughtless act1

Donna B said...

So well said. Thank you DJan for posting about this horribly tragic story.
This upset me as well. Our local news featured a group of young adults and teens who were touched by the story as well. They called the news and spoke openly about their lives and inviting any harassed kids being bullying, to come join them for support and understanding. It was very touching.

I agree, those two kids, who were supposedly close friends, in addition to the young man being his room mate. What a horrific lapse in judgment. It will stay with them the rest of their lives, which as you said, are changed forever.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Sad..I am sure this started out as a prank and then escalated..I feel most sorry for all the parents. But then again..how were these children all raised? Makes me wonder:(

Fatuous Anility said...

I only wish I had lived 200 years ago so I wouldn't be around to see the world as it is today.

Whitney Lee said...

This makes me sad. I agree with Norma Jean about everyone becoming desensitized to these kinds of things. It scares me too, because I am raising my children in this world. I want to teach them that this kind of behavior is unacceptable at the same time I shield them from all of the ugliness. It's depressing that we live in a society in which something like bullying needs to be Illegal before it's stopped.