With all of the hype in the media these past few weeks about social networking sites, in part due to the recent premiere of the movie The Social Network, I was struck by the upsetting and appalling news about Tyler Clementi’s untimely death and the egregious invasion of his privacy. The tragedy gives us pause to reflect on the misuse and abuse of technology that so many take for granted.
Tyler was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University who committed suicide on Sept. 22 by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, used a Webcam to spy on him when he had a “sexual encounter” with another man. Ravi then tweeted publicly about what he saw and broadcasted the incident on the Internet. After what must have seemed like three tortuous and humiliating days, Clementi jumped to his death into the Hudson River. He left a Facebook status for others to read—“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
Both Ravi and classmate Molly Wei have been arrested for transmitting sexual images without consent, which is a third-degree crime. They could face up to five years in prison. I can’t help but wonder if these students actually thought through what they were doing, or if this was an intended and malicious hate crime against gays. In the end, does it matter? Worse, Tyler’s story is just one of a series of incidents in which teens and youth have been harassed and bullied into taking their own lives.
The Flip Side of Social Media: Taking the Higher Road
The reaction to teen suicide has ignited public response – one of hope. Journalist and gay rights activist Dan Savage, in an effort to take a stance against gay teen harassment, created a YouTube channel this year called “It Gets Better.” It has taken off in the last few weeks. The channel is a series of videos featuring adults who share their coming out stories, in hopes to provide support and encouragement to gay teens struggling with feelings of isolation.
A recent study found that 9 out of 10 gay teens are harassed, and that gay kids are four times more likely than straight kids to commit suicide.
What can teens do?
Many teen and parents want to reach out to support gay youth but aren’t sure how. There are ways to support diversity and ways to help GLBT youth feel accepted at school. Even if you do not identify as a sexual minority, standing up and being a friend and ally to your peers can help to reduce discrimination. If you notice something hurtful on social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter, ask the author to take it down because it is offensive. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to imagine what it’s like to be a gay teen.
Read more on GLBT issues and resources on BodiMojo.com.
Samantha Burns is BodiMojo’s Gen Y voice and a graduate student in psychology.
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