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Technology at its worst

By Amanda Sands
Published: October 2010

While we were all enjoying our Wednesday two weeks ago, perhaps sitting through long-block math or realizing there were actually three classes left instead of two, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River and died.

Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, had gone to his RA complaining of his roommate, Dharun Ravi, who had used his webcam to record Clementi’s intimate activity with another man days prior to the suicide. Ravi and another Rutgers student, Molly Wei, watched the encounter from another room.

Ravi reportedly frequently updated gossip about Clementi via Twitter, including an invitation to “anyone with iChat to videochat him regarding a second public streaming of Clementi’s romantic engagement: “Yes it’s happening again, he Tweeted.

Then, the next day, police found Clementi’s wallet and cell phone on the George Washington Bridge. The day after that, a body washed up near the Columbia University boathouse and was identified as Tyler Clementi.

Gay rights activists, friends of Ravi and Wei, law enforcement officials, and University spokespeople all assessed the tragedy slightly differently. But for those of us who didn’t know Clementi, who maybe don’t belong to any of these groups’€how are we affected?
There’s an aspect of the story that connects us all, regardless of where our sympathies lie: technology. How is new media culture transforming us? Is the ability to, say, secretly video someone and then broadcast the footage on the Internet, destroying our moral compass?

Many people enthusiastically shout YES, with the fear that if we don’t do something soon, generations that grew up with this technology will begin to use it for evil. Others pin youths’ unethical behavior on human flaw’€technology is powerful, and we have the choice to use it either as a helpful tool or as a vicious weapon.

Here at South, students’ witness cyber bullying all across the web.

More specifically, kids use Facebook as a tool to create an unsafe environment with cruel comments and untruthful claims. According to senior Joe Step, childish jokes online can be misinterpreted and lead to hurt feelings. “[Poking fun] can often be misconstrued and people can get offended, Step said.

“People are targeted by statuses, senior Kirby Howell said. “I’ve seen full out fights on [Facebook] photos.

According to research company Pear Analytics, “pointless babble and “conversational Tweets make up almost 80% of all Tweets originating from the United States, or written in English. Among those is Ravi’s string of Tweets about his roommate.
This begs the question: How many other Tweets out there are as potentially harmful as Ravi’s were? It’s a free country; there is no limit to what can be revealed over the Internet.

But if some things, like Ravi’s Tweets and his webcam footage, cause so much harm, it becomes difficult to confidently support the original intention of sites like Twitter, applications like iChat, or inventions like the webcam.

New Jersey officials are investigating the nature of the incident; privacy charges against Ravi and Wei carry up to five years in jail, and the case still remains to be classified as a hate crime.

Regardless, the events leading up to Clementi’s death have shed light on some uses of modern technology that have yet to be managed.

If nothing else, Clementi taught us a lesson when he died. Just hours prior to his suicide, Clementi updated his Facebook status: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.

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