After his intimate encounter circulated all over the Internet, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River two weeks ago. Clementi’s roommate used a camera to stream Tyler’s personal moment with another guy live on the Internet.
His roommate tweeted, “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.”
Unfortunately, this is just one example of the ubiquitous incivility that has developed from modern technology. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24.
In fact, five teenagers killed themselves after being physically or verbally assaulted for being gay in September. The suicides of Tyler Clementi, 18, Billy Lucas, 15, Asher Brown, 13, Justin Aaberg, 15, and Seth Walsh, 13, have brought attention to cyber-bullying in the United States.
Raising questions about online freedom and digital ethics, these heartbreaking tragedies make us wonder: what should the punishment be for humiliating someone through the Internet?
In our “viral generation,” we must understand that the Internet has heightened the potential for embarrassment for an individual. As we know, the intimate aspects of our private lives made public can be devastating. Cyber-attacks can reach such an extensive audience in a short amount of time that it can inflict severe mental and emotional pain.
Online communication has become a reality for both children and adults. The virtual world is becoming just as credible as personal interaction.
The consequences of cyber-bullying, however, still tend to be disregarded and ignored by older generations. It is now time for both young and old generations to stop and think about the repercussions of our actions on the Web. There are no rules that tell us how to use the Internet, but we must use our best judgment and know when to draw the line.
A number of celebrities have raised awareness by speaking out about this issue. TV host Ellen Degeneres states in her blog, “We have an obligation to change this. There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop. We can’t let intolerance and ignorance take another kid’s life.”
Some people consider suicide threats a cry for attention, but we must take it seriously and be active about it. If you know that material is posted about someone or hear information beforehand, it is crucial that you take responsibility and speak up.
Bigotry and cruelty should have no place in our schools or communities, let alone the Internet. Schools should discuss cyber-bullying with their students, set up stronger policies and organize awareness programs. Not only do we need to teach children how to lead their private and public lives, but also how cyber-bullying can drastically haunt a victim’s life.
As we continue to live our lives on the Web, we must take digital privacy crimes more seriously before it continues to take more lives.