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The Cyberbullying of Tyler Clementi

The Cyberbullying of Tyler Clementi

The death of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman and violinist Tyler Clementi last week was tragic and terrible. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after two students, his roommate Dharum Ravi and Molly Wei, viewed Clementi having an intimate encounter with another man via webcam on September 19th and then broadcast this on the Internet.  Ravi and Wei have both been charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy for using the camera, while Ravi also faces two further counts for a second,unsuccessful, attempt to view and transmit another image of Clementi two days later. As the October 3rd New York Times notes, if Ravi’s actions are ruled a bias crime, this could ‘raise the charges from third-degree invasion of privacy to second degree, and double the possible punishment to 10 years.’

But while New Jersey has a state status about cyberbullying, this may be, as observed in the New York Times, ‘ill suited to Mr. Clementi’s suicide,’ as its focus is on primary and secondary education and is part of the state’s legal code that is about education, rather than criminal acts. Says Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in cybercrime,

The fact that a case of bullying ends in suicide should not bend the judgment of prosecutors, he said. Society should be concerned, he said, when it appears that the government is “prosecuting people not for what they did, but for what the victim did in response.”

Finding the right level of prosecution, then, can be a challenge. On the one hand, he said, “it’s college — everybody is playing pranks on everybody else.” On the other, “invading somebody’s privacy can inflict such great distress that invasions of privacy should be punished, and punished significantly.”

 

And what about the role of society, of our social-media obsessed society in which the founder of Facebook is lionized and the subject of books and a feature film (which is getting quite a bit of attention)? The New York Times further quotes Daniel J. Solove, author of “The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet,” who calls for a focus on education:

 

“We teach people a lot of the consequences” of things like unsafe driving, he said, “but not that what we do online could have serious consequences.”

 

Facebook groups have been set up in tribute to Clementi, and in support of Ravi and Wei, as noted on NJ.com on September 30th. A friend of Ravi’s claims that secretly filming Clementi via webcam was meant as a just a ‘prank’—-a comment that suggests educators, and our society as a whole, have a long way to go towards teaching students what’s wrong and right in the wild, poorly regulated world of cyberspace.

 

Indeed, Ravi and Wei, by the accounts of their peers and community, were unlikely candidates to be charged with bullying. In the NJ.com article, Ravi is described as a ‘“good, quiet kid”’ who came from ‘“fine people, a nice family.”‘ The NJ.com article also quotes the Hemant Marathe, the president of the school board of the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district, which Ravi and Wei were both graduates of and which is ‘widely recognized as one of the best in the state.’ According to Marathe,

 

the district has programs in place to address issues of cyber bullying and that those programs will be reexamined in the wake of the Rutgers incident.

“We will certainly take a look to see what could have been done. This is a matter that will definitely lead to our introspection,” he said.

 

Let’s hope he really means that—somehow I think a lot more than ‘introspection’ will be needed to stop the bullying

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Photo used under fair use from the Public Tyler Clementi In Memorial Facebook Page, no infringement intended.  (thanks to Steve Williams' article for the link)

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44 comments

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3:58AM PDT on May 14, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

9:23AM PST on Nov 23, 2010

It is good that Ravi and Wei were both widely recognized as one of the best in the state
Thanks,
http://www.cutcyberbullying.com

9:21AM PST on Nov 23, 2010

It is good that Facebook groups have been set up in tribute to Clementi, and in support of Ravi and Wei
Thanks,
cyber bullying

2:52PM PDT on Oct 12, 2010

These perps have a complete lack of conscience and/or zero consideration of the consequences of actions taken affecting another. They are sociopaths. We tolerate sociopaths in educational systems. We call them "bullies" and make excuses for them. We say they are young, or they were "just" pranking. I say zero tolerance should follow a sociopathic action which caused harm in any way. Expel them, charge them if possible, make sure it's on their permanent academic records.

1:40PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

The two perps look like douchebags. I expect nothing less of people like them. I bet they thought they were all uppity and looked down their nose at people like Tyler. Somebody's going to be looking down at them when they get to where they're going.

11:15PM PDT on Oct 10, 2010

They knew that what they were doing was hurtful and would be humiliating. This was no "prank." Their friends don't seem to care about how the victim felt. This is just one more case of when caught doing wrong they think that an apology should make it all go away so they can get on with their life.
Wrong!

9:14PM PDT on Oct 10, 2010

I wonder what scars the students will carry from this suicide for which they may carry guilt.

It could make them more cruel as a self protective mechanism.

It could lead to Godly sorrow and repentance giveing them a loving tender heart for those who are different.

And aren't we all different in one way or another?

1:32AM PDT on Oct 9, 2010

The students were insensitive and dumb...and they should be prosecuted for invasion of privacy and probably something else involving slander or blackmail. But leave it at that...they didn't know their actions would cause this poor kid to kill himself, they are both probably too stupid to be that sensitive.

10:22AM PDT on Oct 7, 2010

It's so sad and degrading to all of humanity when we need to look to our justice department to tell us what is wrong or right as a base of a moral issue. The two who wanted to play the "prank" at a college level - probably knew in their deepest pit of soul, that what they were doing was of malicious intent. Maybe, had they stopped at gathering a video, but once they distributed it on the net, in my view - it was pure evil and meant to humiliate and floor Tyler. But just having a video alone is to be severely reprimanded, since it is flat out invasion of privacy, and that has consequences already in our court system. Let me guess...they had no clue? So, the argument that they were just playing around is non-sense and a try at weaseling out of the situation. Most humans have a moral barometer that says "this is wrong..or this could have consequences", and later we make our decisions... They should pay for what they did, because it is Irretrievable Damage that they put his life up on the web. How do you fix it? How do you get it back? They knew this, otherwise I don't think they would've passed the CPT and been accepted into the university at all. Ultimately killing Tyler. I hope they got their laugh and keep laughing all their way to jail.

2:12PM PDT on Oct 6, 2010

How many more teens like Tyler will end up dead before this problem is solved? Bullying, in all of its forms, is devastating. Something needs to be done now so that Tyler, and all of the other victims, can be brought to justice!

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