Online anonymity not always impersonal
Bullying seems like a simple term â one that we all recognize.
Still, it has taken six teens taking their own lives in the last month alone before it yet again became evident to the American media that thereâs been a spike in the hateful pandemic spreading through todayâs youth.
The most recent of these tragedies took place in New Jersey when Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, three days after Clementiâs roommate allegedly streamed live webcam footage of Clementiâs intimate encounters with another male student.
Cruelty is not a new discovery. The more horrific aspects of the incident lie in the methods of communication involved.
Clementiâs farewell statement was simply a chilling Facebook status update that read, âJumping off the gw bridge sorry,â according to The New York Times.
Clementiâs roommate abused technology to violate privacy; many of our peers do as well.
This casual attitude toward web media and proliferation is disturbingly pervasive. For Clementiâs roommate, it resulted in charges of privacy invasion.
But how many more tragedies like Clementiâs can occur before we stop standing by silently?
The complication with virtual bullying is that it provides a mask of unique anonymity that allows people to be more abusive than they would ever dare be to a personâs face.
Moreover, the instantaneous nature of Internet slander has eliminated those key moments that involve thinking before you act.
As shown in The Social Network, even the origins of Facebook, Mark Zuckerbergâs Facemash.com, are allegedly ones of cowardly teasing.
Despite the reckless hatred that so often surrounds us in the Millennial set, we do have a few things to be grateful for.
We are making strides toward acknowledging this bullying on a legislative level, with acts like the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, enacted in October 2009.
Additionally, in January 2009 the California state legislature enacted one of the first laws in the country dealing directly with cyberbullying.
Demonstrating that the same viral nature of our generationâs technology that contributed to Clementiâs death can still be put to constructive use, public figures, such as Ellen DeGeneres, have used video posts to promote tolerance.
But for every Ellen, thereâs a 50 Cent, who tweeted despicable remarks about oral sex and suicide following this monthâs tragedies.
Openly gay journalist Dan Savage recently started the It Gets Better Project, a video series that encourages lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual adults to submit videos about how they were able to recover after childhood bullying.
But unfortunately, itâs become increasingly evident that cyberbullying doesnât always stop after graduation day.
Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, for instance, ran a blog vilifying the University of Michiganâs first openly homosexual student body president, Chris Armstrong. He called him âSatanâs representativeâ and a âNazi-like recruiter for the cult that is homosexuality,â going so far as to stalk and harass Armstrong, his family and friends on Facebook.
All this from a public official.
The bottom line is this: With technological power comes social responsibility, and our generation has been given more of the former than any other before us.
Thresholds need to be more tangibly determined and limits more clearly drawn. Of course, these are things that develop over time, but how much time are we willing to waste when more and more tragedies like Clementiâs are appearing on college campuses?
Allegra Tepper is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, âTalkinâ âBout My Generation,â runs Tuesdays.