When Social Media is Abused: The Reality of Cyber-Bullying

Posted by Megan Bannister

As children, our parents were warned not to talk to strangers. In simpler times the only bullying earlier generations had to worry about was getting their lunch money stolen on the playground. But as society continuously evolves so do outlets for discrimination and harassment. Now instead of elementary school thugs, children of the technology age must also dodge the minefields of cyber-bullying.

Cyber-bullying is defined by the Wired Safety Group as “when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.” And with the rapid growth of social media and video-chatting, the possibility of more extensive cyber-bullying is swiftly becoming a reality.

The most recent, and public, display of such harassment occurred earlier this week in New Jersey, where the targeting of a student ended in suicide.

According to an article published in the New York Times, Rutgers University freshmen, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, allegedly planted a webcam to spy on Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi. Ravi later posted a message to his Twitter account reading: “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.” Three days after the incident Clementi committed suicide, jumping off of the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River.

As I read article upon article about Clementi, an extremely talented and promising violinist, my heart sank uncomfortably into my stomach. It disgusts me that anyone, especially college students who are supposedly the leaders of the future, would abuse social media in such a way that is blatantly morally wrong.

In response, celebrity fashion and style blogger, Perez Hilton, commented on the incident on his blog, lamenting that Clementi’s death is the fourth suicide of a gay teen in three weeks. Hilton also made an appeal via Twitter to publicly gay members of the media industry such as Tim Gunn and Jay Manuel to make videos to support Dan Savage‘s “It Gets Better” project, under the trending Twitter hashtag #ItGetsBetter.

In a time of such great tragedy, it is comforting to see members of the virtual community coming together to use social media for its intended purpose: to spread information to increase knowledge and to positively connect with one another.

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2 responses to “When Social Media is Abused: The Reality of Cyber-Bullying

  1. It is always sad when something like this happens as a result of kids and teenagers using technology to intentionally hurt their peers.

    These instances also make me wonder, how do we prevent such tragedies? It is hard for some parents to talk to their kids about cyber-bullying when the kids are a part of the generation that knows more about all of this new technology than the parents do. I’m not sure if some schools already do, but maybe schools (even at the elementary level) should begin including talks in the classroom about using technology responsibly.

    I know in South Korea they make elementary school kids recite the “Netiquette Song.” Would that be effective here, in the U.S.?

  2. I had never heard of the “Netiquette Song” so I looked it up and found a website that had a video and lyrics posted (http://current.com/1bj2s4c). I think that it could definitely be innovative to teach things like Internet safety to small children in schools along with the traditional “Stranger Danger” lectures.

    And I definitely agree that cyber-bullying is a hard offense to regulate. Should there be some form of legislation that pertains to cyber-bullying so that offenders like the Rutgers students in Clementi’s case don’t simply get charged with invasion of privacy? Just something interesting to think about.

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