Online anonymity not always impersonal

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.

Rita Yeung | Daily Trojan

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, 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.

6 replies
  1. Concerned Trojan
    Concerned Trojan says:

    I suppose I agree that this should not be a “gay issue,’ only because it is a human issue. And I suppose, from an originality standpoint, I applaud the author’s unique technology-focused angle on this topic. However the article totally neglects that this horrific trend of suicides in the gay community is entirely a product of homophobia. I beg to differ with the commenter who believes the same outcome would have been likely with a young girl in a heterosexual sex tape. There are far too many incidents like this in the GLBT community for us to read these ones as outliers, or as something that also happens frequently in the heterosexual community. Yes, technology is a marker of our generation, and something we must take responsibility for. But how about taking responsibility for ending the societal acceptance of homophobia? Articles written about this topic, in my opinion, cannot skirt around the main issue at hand: hate. Not the internet.

  2. Zooey
    Zooey says:

    As a third generation Trojan alumnus, I applaud the maturity and clarity of Allegra Tepper’s editorial and much of the subsequent commentary. Experience has taught me that “Trojan Family” is not a pair of words; it is a way of life for all of us irrespective of our backgrounds or our inclinations in any or all directions. To that end, I would encourage the entire student body (since “Administration” seems to be silent on the topic) to continue the Trojan traditions of tolerance and fairness.

  3. Ras
    Ras says:

    I agree we should not make this a “gay” issue. I am even wondering if it makes sense to talk about it too much as a bullying issues as well. what happened here was a gross violation of a universal right to privacy. Everyone close your eyes and imagine the last time you had sex someone was watching you on their computer. Now imagine that person also allowed you to be broadcast publicly over the internet. All this under the rubric of a “prank.”

    Everyone should be outraged – gay, straight, student, parent, citizen. A dorm is the main domicile for thousands of students everywhere. If we are saying we can not expect to have privacy when we are at our very most vulnerable and expecting of privacy then society has fallen apart at the seams. Whatever punishment you think these idiots deserve just imagine that last time you had sex, you were broadcast live for all to see what you do behind closed doors.

  4. Diane
    Diane says:

    ‘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.’

    That is absolutely heartbreaking. As for 50 Cent… his opinion is not even worth 2 cents.

    That being said – please do not confuse political views, like support of Prop 8, with “hate.” The two are different.

    What’s more, I don’t think we should make Tyler’s tragedy a “gay” issue, in that I can see a young lady also taking drastic and tragic steps had she been videotaped performing sex acts with a guy. I think the issue here is the incredibly nasty behavior of those who used their cameras to invade someone’s intimate moments. It is pretty sickening. My heart goes out to Tyler’s parents.

  5. mercy
    mercy says:

    Accidentally causing physical harm to someone can lead to an assault charge. Intentionally assaulting someone emotionally on this scale should offer at least some of the same consequences. I don’t see the difference. In fact, I would rather be physically hurt than this.

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