THE HOT BUTTON: Think before you post

Kristen Adorno

“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” 

Is this what the world has come to? A kid posts his suicide announcement as a Facebook status, but only after his private sexual encounters were secretly recorded and posted on the Internet via webcam. The explosion of the Internet and related technologies are typically regarded as phenomenal and extremely beneficial. We have entire libraries at our fingertips: We can instantaneously see and talk to our friends from across the globe, we can see pictures of and chat with all those friends from home, we can connect, we can reconnect, we can share, we can download and we can upload. But that’s not all. We can post anonymous messages, we can make fake accounts and pretend to be anyone we want, we can send pictures and videos to hundreds of people and thousands of strangers, we can hate, we can lie, we can blackmail and we can destroy. With the Internet, we have the power to ruin lives and drive our peers to suicide, like in the case of Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi.

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Clementi plummeted to his death after jumping off of the George Washington Bridge. Three days earlier, his roommate Dharin Ravi, in conjunction with another Rutgers classmate, Molly Wei, had broadcasted Clementi’s homosexual encounters to the entire online community via webcam. That evening, Clementi apparently asked Ravi for some privacy in the dorm room that they shared. Ravi obliged, but shortly after accessed his Skype account from Wei’s room down the hall and spied on Clementi via webcam. Unfortunately, this atrocious violation of privacy didn’t stop there. 

“Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay,” Ravi tweeted as he streamed the video live. 

But the cyber-torture isn’t over. Two days after Clementi’s private encounter was made public against his knowledge, Ravi repeated the action. 

“Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again,” he tweeted.

Bullying has always been an issue, especially in schools and universities. But now we live in an online society where the computer rules the world. And now we have to deal with a whole new monster appropriately termed cyberbullying. It’s bad enough when people harass classmates by telling lies and spreading rumors via word of mouth. But now it’s considered “no big deal” if that’s your situation. People can tweet, they can post Facebook statuses, they can forward pictures, they can stream live video and they can completely destroy someone’s life. 

Now bear with me, I am not saying that I hate the Internet. However, that horrible, unnecessary suicide (in addition to dozens of other Internet-fueled suicides) would probably not have occurred without it. There’s no easy solution for this incredibly widespread problem, but I just hope that this death can go to benefit others and possibly promote some positive awareness. People need to learn that actions taken place behind the safety of a computer screen are not necessarily confined there. People feel empowered by anonymity. The attitude seems to be that they’re not facing their victim face-to-face, so how much damage can really be done? 

This new form of bullying is infinitely worse than before, because it can completely engulf a person. Bullying has evolved. It no longer refers to shoving one against a locker, but to publicizing his or her secrets and spreading lies to hundreds of people in a matter of mere seconds. Cyberbullying has the capability of consuming kids — of running their self-esteem into the ground and making them unsafe in their own homes and schools. One of the worst aspects of cyberbullying is that victims virtually can’t escape it. Every time targets log on their Facebook, or logs on Formspring, or check their texts messages or peruses Twitter, their harassers are there. Even when the comments and pictures are erased (if they are, for it is extremely difficult to delete something permanently once it has been posted on the Internet) the damage has already been done.

Clementi’s death is not the first caused by some form of cyberbullying, and unfortunately, I doubt it will be the last. Enough lives are lost daily due to war, car crashes, illnesses, accidents, etc. This is one form of fatality that can easily be eradicated; we just need to face the reality that actions made privately behind a computer screen can have incredibly public ramifications. I doubt that when Ravi updated his Twitter feed he was aware that his actions would cost him five or more years in prison. When you aim to abuse someone online, you never know exactly how the person will react or how far the extent of the damage will spread. That’s one of the greatest glories and tragedies of the World Wide Web: it connects virtually everyone instantaneously.

Kristen Adorno is a freshman communication major from Seaford, N.Y. She can be reached at [email protected]