At 8:42 p.m. on Sept. 22, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, updated his Facebook status to be, “Jumping off the GW bridge sorry,” then killed himself, according to abcnews.com.
What drove him to this tragic end was bigotry and ignorance. Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, and Ravi’s friend, Molly Wei, broadcasted a live feed of Clementi engaging in sexual activity with another male student, inviting 148 Twitter followers to tune in to ridicule him.
Now Ravi and Wei face criminal charges ranging from invasion of privacy to committing a hate crime to being directly implicated in Clementi’s death.
While Ravi and Wei’s actions are reprehensible, almost unfathomable, the news media covering this heartbreaking story have only exacerbated the issue. Instead of focusing on the true cause of Clementi’s suicide – callow, narrow-minded ignorance and bullying – lawmakers and media outlets have been rallying against the Internet, seemingly the only place Clementi felt comfortable enough to vent his issues.
ABC News reported that Clementi had posted his grievances on JustUsBoys.com, a gay community website, and quoted him as having said, “I’m kind pissed at him (rightfully so I think, no?),” in regards to his roommate. But after finding the forum thread for myself, I’m shocked at how little attention and respect has been paid to it.
First, the quote is “kinda,” not “kind.” It’s a small issue, but when it’s one of the last things Clementi ever wrote, it’s unacceptable. Further, it’s clear that ABC News never made it past that sentence while skimming.
Clementi also wrote, “I feel like the only thing the school might do is find me another roommate, probably with me moving out…and i’d probably just end up with somebody worse than him…. I mean aside from being an asshole from time to time, he’s a pretty decent roommate…”
Reading the rest of the thread, as posters realize what happened to him, is chilling.
The Internet may have been Ravi’s outlet to torment Clementi, but it was also Clementi’s outlet to get help. The media’s focus on the Internet as the real cause behind this tragedy is disgusting. In Jeff Jarvis’ article on thefastertimes.com, “Why the Rutgers Suicide Isn’t About the Internet,” he explained that in a recent interview with Katie Couric on the topic, “Couric asked me the same question a half-dozen ways…trying to get me to give her the answer she wanted.”
“The sin could have been committed with a Kodak camera or a telephone or a letter, for that matter,” he wrote.
This is a lesson the media should have learned by now. Last year, 13-year-old girl, Hope Witsell, sent a boy she liked a picture of herself topless. He passed it around, and other students began calling her “slut” and “whore.” Instead of helping her deal with her cruel classmates, the school suspended her and her parents grounded her. She hung herself in her room.
“The Today Show” jumped on the story, blaming the act of “sexting” for her suicide, not the incessant bullies, the school, or her parents.
It’s baffling that this kind of outdated thinking could be repeated so soon. The reason why Clementi and Witsell both took their lives had nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with society. Bullying is nothing new. We need to stop blaming the tools used to bully and blame the bullies themselves.
Not only are news outlets shifting the blame from the actual causes of these suicides, they are contributing to them. They perpetuate the idea that individuals are not responsible for their actions. They give these bullies a way out. We should be holding Ravi responsible, not the Internet.