Sunday, October 17, 2010

The aggressive, hostile individual who always finds the most vulnerable schoolmate to taunt has been a plague to schoolyards forever. In our technologically-advancing 21st century, the Internet has evolved the definition of the classic bully.

20 years ago, the bully physically or verbally abused the victim using profane language. Today, the bully is capable of invading the victim's privacy and broadcasting his or her personal life on the Internet, which is precisely what recently happened to a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers freshman, committed suicide after experiencing negative exposure in cyberspace. According to New Jersey police, his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and classmate Molly Wei allegedly observed and videotaped Clementi's intimate encounter with a man. They streamed the encounter on YouTube. As a result of this humiliation, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Clementi is one of five young adults in the gay and lesbian community who have recently committed suicide due to cyberbullying. This issue opens the floodgates: GLBTQ young adults have few safe spots from bullies.

Who is responsible for protecting young adults from cyberbullying, especially when threats can be accessed by millions of people around the world? In such situations, it seems that there is no better option than suicide for individuals who are struggling to find a safe, accepting place in society.

What we, regular Internet users, deem an invasion of privacy in Clementi's situation, many consider manslaughter. What should the punishment be for acts like cyberbullying and online humiliation?

This question is as difficult to answer as how to integrate our values and find a balance between our right to privacy and the urge to text, tweet, stream and post. At the same time, it's necessary to consider just how culpable an online bully is in someone's decision to end his or her life. In this case, public humiliation and sexual orientation was a deadly combination. Unfortunately, it is not the first time we have seen this fatal combination at work.

Overall the situation holds double standards. On one side, we are afraid of being bullied through the Internet, yet on the other, Facebook and Twitter encourage us to put every thought and moment online. We sacrifice our own privacy to the altar of connectedness and worry less about the privacy of others.

Amid all the social networking sites and progressive worldviews on technology, we get swept up in the temporary world of such sites, and it becomes harder to define boundaries.

Impulsiveness, immaturity and immense publishing power can be a dangerous mix. The ability to distinguish what is and is not acceptable to post online becomes crucial. Simply because we have the privilege to post something online, does not always make the act morally repugnant.

Clementi's roommate misused his right to the Internet by tweeting private information about his roommate. After knowing that your private moment became public without your knowledge, what kind of an attitude should you take on in order to face the world?

Perhaps similar thoughts went through Clementi's mind, and he chose not to face the world at all. In some respect, he becomes responsible for his death too, simply because he made the choice of suicide.

However, ultimately, it was his roommate whose actions pressured Clementi to make the fatal jump. Again, it becomes difficult to identify who holds the responsibility.

Contrary to what many people believe, the bullying situation among young adults has not worsened; we simply have easier access to people's privacies. 20 years ago, bullying happened on a similar scale, just not in the same ways.

With our technologically-advancing society, it is clear that bullying has grown in the cyberworld. However, the consequences are worse, and to prevent those, it's important to be aware of them. We must figure out a way to fight back against cyberbullies, just as we would in the schoolyard...