Bullying seems like a simple term — 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 there’s been a spike in the hateful pandemic spreading through today’s 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 Clementi’s roommate allegedly streamed live webcam footage of Clementi’s 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.
Clementi’s farewell statement was simply a chilling Facebook status update that read, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” according to The New York Times.
Clementi’s 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 Clementi’s roommate, it resulted in charges of privacy invasion.
But how many more tragedies like Clementi’s 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 person’s 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 Zuckerberg’s 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 generation’s technology that contributed to Clementi’s 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, there’s a 50 Cent, who tweeted despicable remarks about oral sex and suicide following this month’s 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, it’s become increasingly evident that cyberbullying doesn’t always stop after graduation day.
Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, for instance, ran a blog vilifying the University of Michigan’s first openly homosexual student body president, Chris Armstrong. He called him “Satan’s representative” and a “Nazi-like recruiter for the cult that is homosexuality,” 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 Clementi’s are appearing on college campuses?
Allegra Tepper is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation,” runs Tuesdays.