What do we do about online bullying?

Being a teenager sucks. Emotions run off the hinges and bullies are downright cruel. It seems the entire scope of human misery can play out over a soggy roast beef sandwich in the school cafeteria. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is thinking you’re alone.

I always championed the internet as a means of discovering you aren’t. There are outlets for teenagers to collectively wallow in their angst, as well as communities that help gay and lesbian teenagers find friendship and support, despite alienating circumstances.

But then I read about Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly broadcast his sexual encounter with a man in his dormroom via webcam. It reminded me that there is a dark side to the power-at-your-fingertips, that the internet is a neutral force with equal potential to be used for good or for evil. Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei, his accomplice (who were both charged with privacy invasion) hit the depths of the latter use.

The question is, after seeing this depth, where do we go from here?

The internet is hard to regulate. The maniacal urge that has driven teenagers to bully each other since the dawn of…teenagers…is hard to regulate.

Let’s start with a fact. Gay and lesbain teenagers are four times more likely to commit suicide than straight teens. Will a more sex-positive discourse lead to tolerance of differences?

Anti-harrassment policies in high schools and colleges?

An increase in privacy evasion laws, to make them more of an offense?

More support systems for teens in need?

What do you think we can do to prevent these tragedies in the future?


Ellen Degeneres on the crisis of teenage bullying

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6 Responses to What do we do about online bullying?

  1. Sarah Ewald says:

    I agree, this is a major problem.

    Dan Savage and his husband have started the It Gets Better video project on YouTube for LGBTQ teens. It’s all about adults who’ve been there sharing their experiences with kids and teens and giving them encouragement. Have you heard about it?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAfZhjUVlWE

  2. Hannah Miet says:

    Man, I love Dan Savage.

  3. Matt Draper says:

    Interesting post – I think I agree with Rep. Turner in her call for increasing punishment regarding privacy evasion offenses. Regardless, the more people talking about it – from Ellen to your post – will help raise awareness to a timely and urgent issue. well done.

  4. Hannah Miet says:

    Thanks, Matt.

    I think what Turner is proposing is one step in the right direction. The fact that the maximum sentence the roommate could get is 5 years does not seem adequate to me.

    At the same time, I don’t think the incident alone drove Clementi to suicide. It was nothing more than his tipping point. What he needed was acceptance. Acceptance from others and from society, and most importantly from himself. So I think you’re right. The more people talk about it — especially sharing their own experiences, the more teenagers will feel less alone in similar circumstances. It’s such a complicated issue.

  5. cesar.bustamante says:

    I don’t want to make light of the fact the someone committed suicide but I look at this through a sociological perspective especially in this new age of social media. There is still this perceived divide between our online identity and our “real life” which is proving more and more to be a false divide. People need to realize that what you might be screaming into the crowd and not just a select audience of friends when you post things online. And if you think screaming something private out in a campus food court may have grave implications (other than people looking at you like a weirdo which isn’t that grave), it’s possible twittering it may have have even worst.

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