Tensions are running high about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide after being outed as gay via his roommate’s online webcam. This blog isn’t really about Clementi’s suicide or teen bullies or the legal ramifications of what happened in New Jersey two weeks ago. It’s about the reaction to all three.
Oddly, I haven’t heard any live, in-person discussions about this story at the college where I work, but I’ve witnessed a lot of heated arguments online in the last few days. People are upset. Celebrities are posting videos, drawing attention to multiple gay teen suicides, and asking that society do something to stop the kind of bullying to which Tyler Clementi was subjected.
The problem? People are becoming hysterical, and that’s never good.
I don’t like to acknowledge online haters, but in this case, I feel I have to say something, because when bullying takes place in response to bullies, nothing is solved.
And somehow, online arguments seem to sour faster than they might if the combatants were in the same room. Maybe it’s the anonymity of not being face to face with another human being. Maybe it’s the fact that we lose the nuances of speech when we read hastily-written comments and emails. Maybe it’s a lack of phermones. I don’t know.
What I do know is this: some of the online reactions I’ve seen to the Clementi suicide have not been helpful. I just watched a group of well-meaning, seemingly well-educated adults gang up on a Facebook friend who didn’t agree with their views. It wasn’t a calm, rational debate. There was name calling. There was rampant condescension. There were mild threats. It was the Facebook equivalent of an angry mob.
That sort of behavior isn’t going to sort out this problem, or any other. It’s not going to teach kids to be decent to one another and it’s not going to help out teens like Tyler Clementi.
I’d like to submit that we are better than bullies. I’d like to think we are capable of calmly disagreeing with someone who does not share our views. Even if that person is on Twitter or Facebook. Even if we may never meet them in person. Even if that person is espousing beliefs that are utterly repugnant to us.
We can’t make a difference unless we are considerate of our words and of each other, even if we disagree. Our country is built on that.