I was really saddened to read about the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. Reading the stories about how the gay student was harassed by twoother students, I was struck by how social media played a part in what happened. It also struck me how social media seems to have in this case broken down thewrong boundaries.Every time something as all encompassing as social media comes along, a lot of boundaries are broken down. That’s a good thing usually. However this is case, I think the tsunami that is social media destroyed some boundaries that need to be reestablished.I was a member of a high school class that liked to have a good time. We partieda lot on the weekends. However, we always very careful about publicizing the party’s location. It was strictly word-of-mouth. Notice of the party was always keptfrom adults. Locations were on a need-to-know basis.Once at the party, there was another strict rule – we always ensured there was nopermanent record of the event. Cameras were never allowed. No one wanted pictures of Saturday night’s revelry to show up on a parent’s, teachers, or coach’s desk. Theboundaries were rigid and we knew exactly where they were.We also respected each other’s personal space. If a couple wanted to go off by themselves, no one followed them to see what was up. If someone wanted to indulge in an illegal substance, they usually went off somewhere private with others of alike mind. They certainly didn’t take pictures of it and put them out in the public.Those boundaries seem to have broken down. I am amazed sometimes by how many oftoday’s social media users seem to have no filter when it comes to posting things.In Clementi’s case, prosecutors have charged Molly Wei, of Princeton, and fellowRutgers freshman Dharun Ravi of Plainsboro, both 18, allegedly used a webcam tobroadcast the encounter on the Internet between Ravi
s roommate Clementi and a man who hasn
t been identified.The tragic result of that is Clementi committed suicide. I don’t think anyone knows all the facts, but clearly he wasn’t ready for the world to know about his sexuality. The boundaries around what he thought were his private life had been blownup.While this is an extreme example of that lack of boundaries, there are so many others. Look at the number of teenagers who attack someone, film it, and post iton YouTube. A lot of vandals seem to delight in recording their antics and thentelling the world about it on Facebook. I know of companies who have decided notto hire someone because they posted pictures online of themselves drunk or naked or both. Then there’s sexting, another thing I don’t understand.I realize a lot of this behavior went on before social media. I am not blaming social media per se for what is happening. Social media is just a tool. There have always been exhibitionists. Most teenagers are not equipped to look a couple of years down the road. I am really glad there is no record of some of the thingsI did 40 years ago.The difference now is that it possible to tell the 1.9 billion Internet users exactly how you screwed up. Plus, once something is on the Internet, it is forever. As I said, social media is a tool. The issue people a lot of people are misusing this tool.I don’t know the answer. All I know is we have to find a way to reestablish thoseboundaries.