Despite form of delivery, insults still injure
A tweet can change everything.
It certainly changed the lives of Rutgers University students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, and it definitely had an impact on freshman Tyler Clementi. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge Sept. 22 after Ravi, his roommate, posted a message on Twitter that he was watching Clementi via webcam "making out with a dude." And later in the night, Ravi allegedly used the hidden camera to stream the roommate's personal encounter on the Internet.
Clementi died and both Ravi and Wei have been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy. The maximum sentence is five years in prison.
University students know the awesome power of the Internet. It can be used to connect with old friends, research a paper or exchange ideas and thoughts via instant communication. Yet for all of the Internet's advantages, there are still those who use the technology to cause harm.
Perhaps it's the veil of anonymity a screen name or e-mail can offer. Does this idea of the victim obsessing about who the culprit could be make the perpetrator's face form a cruel grin?
Maybe it's the seemingly less intimate nature of the Web. The bully doesn't see the victim's face fall after reading the hurtful posts or hear the sobs of pain and hurt.
This is a false reality for the victims. Demeaning words maintain their ability to devastate one's self-confidence, regardless of their method of delivery.
With the increasing publicity of cyber bullying attacks and the resulting suicides, some preventative measures are beginning to form. But what role do universities play in protecting the online well-being of students without invading privacy?
In Elon University's student handbook, a student can be charged with a moral and decent offence. The definition includes words, messages, harassment, abuse or sexually offensive material regardless of how the message is transmitted. And the violation continues to include the scope to "on or off-campus and including online technology."
This is a measure used after the violation has occurred. Elon does not constantly monitor students' online lives, and for good reason. To do so would result in an overbearing police state and a violation of students' privacy. But still, something must be done to prevent the harassment that plagues the online world.
Programs can be created to reinforce want many students already know, but seem to forget as soon as they sit at the keyboard. They know that what is written, posted, or recorded online can last forever in cyberspace, but the amount of revealing personal information that exists online is still astonishing.
What is written on a brash whim, without thinking of the consequences, will last forever in the digital world. And while posts can be deleted, the possibility of the words being copied or the screen being captured remains an ever-present factor.
Tolerance and accepting the differences in classmates begins in freshmen orientation, and while social media is touched upon, a greater emphasis should be placed on how to identify and prevent cyber bullying. Also, resources should be clearly outlined for those who experience cyber bullying.
The physical world of taunts has moved online, and it is time for universities to make the transition to prevent further unnecessary tragedies.
Updated October 12, 2010