Cyberbullying has been in the news lately in conjunction with the tragic story of a young man driven by his tormentors to take his own life. The story involves a student at Rutgers University named Tyler Clementi, whose roommate videotaped him having a romantic encounter with another man and broadcast it on the internet with commentary. Shortly after the broadcast, Clementi committed suicide.
There is much debate at the moment regarding whether the roommate and his friend who broadcast the footage should be charged in conjunction with Clementi’s death and I will leave that question to the legal experts. I do, however, want to address the idea of cyberbullying and the role that it is increasingly playing in our society. Cyberbullying was originally thought of as something reserved for young teens with seriously underdeveloped judgment. As technology has started to play a greater role in all of our lives, it seems that cyberbullying is creeping up into universities and the adult world.
Once our brains reach a certain level of maturity most of us know that it is unacceptable to beat people up or announce their deepest secrets on a megaphone for all to hear. For some reason this seems to become less obvious when we are using the internet. The internet makes it easier to distance ourselves from our actions and their consequences. A bully who writes something cruel on a message board does not need to see the reaction on the face of his victim. In addition, the impact of publishing something cruel online is intensified because, unlike a fleeting comment, the written words endure and can be found by anybody with a search engine.
All of this seems to call for more face time with the people in our lives and less time interacting with those people solely through technology. If we want to retain civility in our schools, workplaces, and communities we need to develop a greater degree of empathy and not become even more disconnected with those around us.