On Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010, law enforcement pulled a young man’s body out of the Hudson River.
The New York City Medical Examiner’s office confirmed the recovered body belonged to Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who quickly became the center of privacy and social media debate across the country.
Clementi, 18, spent less than three weeks at Rutgers University as a freshman before his suicide. Roommate Dharun Ravi, 18, and fellow freshman Molly Wei, 18, allegedly taped Clementi’s sexual interaction with another male student and posted the video on the Internet.
Ravi tweeted, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” before blasting the video on Sept. 19.
Ravi tried to record Clementi again two days later, tweeting, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”
The next day, Clementi’s body was pulled out of the Hudson River. His last Facebook status, updated from a mobile device, said: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
The American legal system can monitor lawlessness in traditional forms of media, but the slow-moving system has yet to catch up to the rapidly developing social media sphere. Up-to-date laws could take years, and in years, the new laws could be irrelevant.
Are new laws governing social media the key? Or should common sense be the driving factor in the postings of the Millennial Generation?
In light of Clementi’s suicide, members and supporters of the GLBT community are using social media platforms to reach out to other teen’s who are affected by cyberbullying or feel lost because of their sexual orientation. Ellen Degeneres posted An Important Message from Ellen about Bullying while other GLBT members and supporters contributed to sex columnist Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project–online videos that tell young GLBTs they can survive harassment.
The uses of the Internet in relation to Clementi’s suicide represent opposite ends of the social media spectrum: while one use led to the tragic death of a young man, the other is motivating the masses to end discrimination against future Tyle Clementi’s and other members of the GLBT community.