Leave the Internet Alone! Cyberbullying is Still Bullying
Sunday, October 10th, 2010
Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers University, with the help of another student, planted a webcam in Clementi’s room and posted a video of him in bed with another man. They’re being charged with invasion of privacy and there is a debate as to whether or not their actions qualify as a hate crime.
Technology is not at the heart of this issue. It is the weapon that was used, but this is a modern case of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The problem is that kids torture and humiliate each other, not that it’s easier than ever for them to do so now that they are armed with webcams and text blasts. Clementi’s case is at the cross-section of cyberbullying and homophobic harassment — two separate issues that often overlap. Since cyberbullying is just regular bullying in a new venue, persistent homophobia and the cruelty that comes from it are the crux of the issue here. The fact that it was acted out online is secondary and superficial.
Even if we disregard potential underlying issues that may have contributed to his suicide and reduce his motivation to this isolated incident — which is what people do by using his case to proclaim the dangers of cyberbullying — the focus of the discussion is still in the wrong place. While he might have been peeved that his privacy was invaded, the nature of what was exposed was what mortified him and ultimately pushed him to suicide.
It doesn’t matter if Clementi’s roommate posted a video online or if he walked through the town square with a scroll. What matters is that it’s 2010, this is America, and the prospect of everyone finding out he was gay made him want to die.
We, as a society, are so obsessed with technological progress and its risks that the fact that Clementi was outed with the use of a webcam and Twitter means that his story is about the perils of the technological age. We are so titillated by the risks of the unknown, the unforeseen ways in which the Internet will contribute to our downfall, that we can’t see that we’re still fighting the same fights over and over again.
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