Anti-Social Media

Monday, October 04, 2010

Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate and founding editor of Double X, looks at the Tyler Clementi case in light of other cyber-bullying incidents with fatal consequences; and New Jersey Star Ledger reporter Amy Ellis Nutt discusses her own reporting on the issue.


Emily Bazelon

Comments [44]

Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn

Hi, Brian, I think that what happened to Tyler Clementi shows how cruel children and the young can be to those who are not like them. I don’t for one moment believe that the roommate and the girl who helped him spread what Tyler was doing all over the Internet did not know that it would cause harm and emotional distress. I am disabled on my right side and when I was a child my schoolmates would make fun of me and how my right hand was so different from my left. These girls, who were Catholic private school pupils, were sharp enough at 8 or 9 to realize they were making me unhappy. In time I grew hard and fought back. There is no excuse for what these roommates did. Even if Tyler had not committed suicide, it was a cruel thing to do. Eugenia Renskoff

Oct. 04 2010 02:08 PM
gary from queens

Dear Amy from Manhattan:

I agree with you. I understood what the "BL Blog bleeped individual" had said, and I agree with your interpretation. The "BL Blog bleeped individual" had not made a hateful comment towards orthodox jews, or even---I would say----towards christians. The "BL Blog bleeped individual" was merely expressing a philosophical/political point of view.

But while you and I don't construe what "BL Blog bleeped individual" stated as "hateful", a prosecutor might. WHY? Because it's a subjective term. And if you define in the law what speech is "hateful", then the courts would strike it down as unconstitutional. BECAUSE THE FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTS IT.

As for the "BL Blog bleeped individual", the reason we are forced to refer to her as "BL Blog bleeped individual" is probably because the BL Blog moderators had taken my hypothetical seriously, and did not wish to place "BL Blog bleeped individual" in further jeopardy from my hypothetical prosecutor!

Oct. 04 2010 12:42 PM

"Intent" is not just a concept that defines the heinousness of a criminal act; although it may have that collateral effect.
If you look at a statute formally defining a "criminal act" you will always find a definition of intent as an integral, "sine qua non", of the crime. The prosecutor may think that a specific act may be a crime or he may receive a complaint of an act that someone else thinks is a crime, but before he can bring specific, formal, criminal charges he must determine and specifically allege the nature of the intent required for each act to be found to be a crime.
(i.e., in law,there is no criminal act without the requisite intent.)

Oct. 04 2010 12:35 PM
gary from queens

Lance Quote:

"Your hypothetical cases involve accidental injuries. The prosecution would need to convince the court that they were not accidents."

OK Lance, let's look at my hypothetical from before: "Joe" accidently hits a gay pedestrian with his car. Prosecutors "would need to convince the court " that is was not an accident, as you correctly say. How do you look for motive? They find that Joe was previously acquainted with gay guy. A casual acquaintence, but sufficient for Joe to have learned gay guy was gay. THEN prosecutors search the internet and find that Joe had made philosophical comments critical of homosexuality on the BL Blog. Maybe it's religous in nature. maybe it's political---by opposing certain rights that gays want. whatever. normally it's free speech. UNTIL an accident happens. Joe doesnt hate gays. He just has a political opinion. or a religious belief. YET BY MERELY EXPRESSING it, he places his life and wellbeing in jeopardy.

Again, strict scrutiny might make these laws unconstitutional. Why must we wait for judges to rule our lives? Hate speech is unconstitutional----Because ANY LEGITIMATE SPEECH CAN AN IS OFTEN MISCONSTRUED AS "HATEFUL."

Oct. 04 2010 12:23 PM

Gary from Queens:

"Prosecutors look at INTENT" -- only after a CRIME has been committed.

Your hypothetical cases involve accidental injuries. The prosecution would need to convince the court that they were not accidents.

You're really reaching.

Oct. 04 2010 12:01 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Gary, the commenter you responded to wasn't commenting on Orthodox Jews herself--she was quoting a satirical comment from a website that makes the fairly common point that people who quote the Torah to condemn homosexual acts (actually, only those btwn. males are included in the Torah prohibition) are being inconsistent if they don't also condemn everything else prohibited in the Torah. Nothing in the quoted snippet or in her comment was critical of Orthodox Jews--if anything, it implied they're more consistent than Christians who pick out this 1 part of the Torah to justify opposing gay marriage. The latter are the ones criticized in the quote, & the kind of criticism--pointing out this inconsistency--doesn't amount to hate speech.

Oct. 04 2010 12:00 PM
gary from queens

One other thing Lance (from Queens):

You wrote:

QUOTE-----Hate speech should not be protected speech.
Not all speech is legal. You cannot legally yell "Fire" in a theater.-----UNQUOTE

Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater IS in fact, LEGAL, if the theater is on fire. It is very easy for prosecutors and society (ie juries) to determine whether or not the theater was actually on fire, in order for a prosectutor to accurately assess motive, or for a jury to render a fair verdict.

BUT determining motive from an action that might not have included "motive to injure", would not be easily determined from political and philosophical speech. You are exhibit "A" in my argument. You assume I'm anti Gay, for example. Just from my PHILOSOPHICAL discussion here on this blog. As juror, you would be among those who would assume my unintentional harm to a gay or muslim WAS intentional. Each of our views about politics are seen by antagonistic. It easily inflames passions. It should not be used as a measure to assess possible criminal behavior. It squelches free speech----PROTECTED speech. Because no one should judge whether or not any speech is "hate speech" or not.

Oct. 04 2010 11:57 AM


This is a site (I believe) that contains the entire statute; partial quotes, such as yours, containing ellipses ( ". . .") are so easily tools and objects of intentional and inadvertent misunderstandings.

@Gary from Queens:

You can legally yell "Fire" in a theater under appropriate circumstances.
(At least, that's the way I think it should be.
Do you have any authority stating otherwise?)

Oct. 04 2010 11:45 AM
gary from queens

Dear Lance from Queens:

You just demonstrated in your response to me that philiosophic criticism of homosexuality or Shariah (the political component of islam) can very easily be misconstrued. AND I DIDN'T EVEN EXPRESS MY PHILOSOPHY YET. I have the right to criticize homosexuality and Sharia if I want to. And you have the right to misconstrue my comments to be hateful. I just don't want to arm a prosecutor with the power to misconstrue it, or take political advantage by mischaracterizing it as MOTIVE behind an action that actually have no intention to do physical harm.

Yes, europe and UK have hate speech. They don't have the first amendment protection. speech we take for granted here, which you use, would be prohibited there.

And you say: "Our laws are only concerned with your acts." That is incorrect. prosecutors look at INTENT, in order to decide the severity of the crime (manslaughter vs homocide etc etc)

Oct. 04 2010 11:34 AM
gary from queens

Just want everyone to know that i had addressed my last comment to someone who commented on orthodox jews. since BL Blog does not number the entries, it was my comment that begins like this: "I find you criticism of orthodox jews sincere and philosophical in nature. You would not intentionally hurt and orthodox jew."

However, BL Blog moderators removed the name of the person i addressed it to, before posting my comment. WHY? Because i was explaining how a prosecutor might misconstrue her comment and add hate crime penalties to a crime she may have committed (thru negligence and not intent). BL Blog normally permits people to respond to others specifically. Yet this time I was prevented. Obviouisly, they feel that the other person could be critical of orthodox jews, but not be criticized by others for that criticism. Or perhaps BL blog felt they didnt want to aid prosecutors?

Maybe their editorial actions made my point about hate crimes after all.

Oct. 04 2010 11:19 AM

Gary from Queens:

Hate speech should not be protected speech.
Not all speech is legal. You cannot legally yell "Fire" in a theater.

Other modern democracies cherish freedom of speech while prohibiting hate speech, so it's ridiculous to propose that a prohibition against hate speech would undermine our democracy.

Your worry about laws to penalize thought are unfounded in this discussion. You can think whatever you want. Our laws are only concerned with your acts.

Oct. 04 2010 10:57 AM

Did the roommate know Clementi was gay, and was that a reason he videoed him?

As reported by Gawker, with screen caps of the roommate's tweets:
"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."

He then tweeted on a subsequent day:
"Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it's happening again."

Reported elsewhere, Ravi had tweeted in August, a whole month before these events, "Found out my roommate is gay," with a link to a post he said was Clementi's on a gay chat site.

Oct. 04 2010 10:49 AM
gary from queens

I find you criticism of orthodox jews sincere and philosophical in nature. You would not intentionally hurt and orthodox jew. I only hope that you nwever accidently hurt one. because if you do, perhaps a prosecutor who is an orthodox jew might construe that you had intent, based on your speech on this blog. Intent is a valid allegation in prosecuting crimes. any crimes. and rightly so. Now, with hate crime laws, free speech can be assessed as motive as well.

Do you now support hate crime laws?

Oct. 04 2010 10:45 AM
Jeremy from Harlem from Harlem

Re: the phone comment about the derivation of the word 'faggot' as a homophobic slur: there is no evidence to suggest that it came from the "fact" that homosexuals were beaten with bundles of sticks, or burned at the stake with using faggots. The word as a slur is only traced back as far as the early 20th century in the US; homosexuals in England were not burned at the stake (and nor has the word ever been commonly used there as a slur for gays; if it is it is recognized as being wholly an Americanism). If there is any traceable connection, it may have something to do with the determined existence of the word in England in the 17th century as a pejorative for an old, ugly or shrewish woman.

Oct. 04 2010 10:42 AM
LeFleur from Bronx

There's more in the Bible about Homosexual acts:
Rom 1: 24-27
1 Cor 6: 9-10
1 Tim 1: 10
They reveal that homosexual acts is serious depravity; intrinsically disordered; sins gravely contrary to chastity. Please in the future stop giving out misinformation regarding what the Bible says about homosexual acts. You do a grave disservice to your listeners & the truth.

Oct. 04 2010 10:42 AM
Leo in NYC

And here's a note for any Sarah Palin-supporter-types out there.

You can't be a feminist, or a supporter of full equality for women, and condone homophobia in any way.

If you want women to have great, big happy lives they have to be allowed the full range of choices and identities out there, without fearing recriminations and the hatred of other women and men.

And what is the nature of homophobia directed at men? Young boys are taught to reject closeness with other boys as being "gay." The worst thing you can be is a sissy. Which essentially means to be "weak, like a woman." And this idea is enforced with humiliation, ostracization and violence or threats of violence.

So sexism is at the core of homophobia. The idea of women being weak and "less than" men is part of the root of homophobia. If you want to enforce traditional sex and gender "norms" you necessarily want to enforce sexism.

And if you do, you will inevitably invite bullying and other forms of physical and emotional violence.

Oct. 04 2010 10:39 AM
gary from queens

The incident is regretable and we must take steps to prevent it again. But it shouild not be those which would squelch protected speech. Suppose an individual expresses philosophical opposition to homosexuality or say sharia law. He is labeled homophobic or islamophobic by the thought police---who now have a law to penalize thought. Because suppose that individual accidently injures a gay or muslim person. it could have been in an auto accident, or a prank gone out of control. an automobile accident let's say. and then it is learned that the individual had know the gay or muslim previously. perhaps the victim was his student, or he patronized his store. anything. then you will have prosecutors tagging onto the crime additional penalties via hate crime statutes.

Read what strict scrutiny is. this court doctrine will kick is someday and render hate crime laws unconstitutional.

Oct. 04 2010 10:37 AM
dboy from nyc

... 'nough with the NUTZ thumping the bibles!!!

Oct. 04 2010 10:30 AM

Thank you for putting up the law Lance...

So in New Jersey it's called " bias intimidation..." I'm still not convinced it applies in this case. I suspect that the man and woman who streamed the encounter would have done it whether it was two men, two women, or a man and a woman. They just wanted to amuse themselves by embarrassing someone else, with truly tragic consequences for all involved.

Oct. 04 2010 10:30 AM

As a mom, I am very sad to hear of the invasion of privacy and the possible effects on this young man. However- we need to also rethink of what goes on in dorm rooms. My daughter was chronically kicked out of her room when her roommate's boyfriend came by and they wanted heterosexual intimacy. After several weeks of this - my daughter was really annoyed. It would be worth the conversation about privacy and intimacy in shared spaces and perhaps the academy should review policies about sex on campus and dorm rooms in particular.

Oct. 04 2010 10:28 AM
Bob from Pelham N.Y.

To follow up on John from Office, it's not just the internet, there are lots of films where similar stunts are portrayed as funny pranks by the "cool kids" on the outside "others" -- from "M.A.S.H" in 1970 (with camp loudspeakers) to the current "Virginity Hit" film trailers.

Oct. 04 2010 10:28 AM
Leo in NYC

Respect and tolerance and "civility" are not enough.

Our goal must be the complete loving inclusion of everyone in our society as a full human being with an identity that they can be fully proud of.

Oct. 04 2010 10:27 AM
Bob from Pelham N.Y.

To follow up on John from Office, it's not just the internet, there are lots of films where similar stunts are portrayed as funny pranks by the "cool kids" on the outside "others" -- from "M.A.S.H" in 1970 (with camp loudspeakers) to the current "Virginity Hit" film trailers.

Oct. 04 2010 10:26 AM

How many kids have to die before we admit that it's totally our fault? Our country has failed to provide the basic human rights to homosexuals that are necessary for them to have any sense of self respect. In a country where gays can't even legally marry... of course this kid is going to feel like he has no other option but suicide. He really doesn't have any other options in this country!

Oct. 04 2010 10:26 AM
office from office

Urgh, Did you ever think that these are two kids making a prank and that Tyler was just depressed. Lets not elevate a prank to a national crisis.

Oct. 04 2010 10:25 AM

How many kids have to die before we admit that it's totally our fault? Our country has failed to provide the basic human rights to homosexuals that are necessary for them to have any sense of self respect. In a country where gays can't even legally marry... of course this kid is going to feel like he has no other option but suicide. He really doesn't have any other options in this country!

Oct. 04 2010 10:25 AM
Laura from UWS

The Bible--"God Hates Shrimp" website:

"The point we're trying to make is that by using the Old Testament (specifically the book of Leviticus) as a basis for protesting gay marriage, you run into a couple of problems. The first is that in the New Testament, Jesus established the New Covenant, which stated that the old Mosaic laws about unclean things were invalid (Jesus in his own person said nothing specifically against homosexuality, although Paul later attributed some remarks to him). The second reason is that if you still want to quote from Leviticus, despite Jesus' doing away with Mosaic law, then you better be prepared to enforce the whole thing, not just the parts you like. This includes not only the injunction against shellfish and mussels and such, but also against wearing fabrics made of blended fibers, cutting or shaving your beard, sowing mixed seed in a field, and a slew of other things nobody but Orthodox Jews take seriously anymore.

But, some of you say, in the original Hebrew, there are two words that were both translated as "abomination": to'eivah, for homosexuality, and sheketz, for non-kosher food."

Oct. 04 2010 10:25 AM

I'm not sure why this is a "hate" crime. It was crude, and it was mean, but how is it hate? I guess this just goes to show how subjective and legally futile it is to describe something as a hate crime.

A question however: Why has the media plastered this young man's name all over the place? I thought that a bit more respect was given to someone who was the apparent victim of a sex crime... which, if you ask me, the video streaming of someone's makeout session, and whatever follows, seems to fit the bill...

Oct. 04 2010 10:25 AM
Amy from Manhattan

What I haven't heard anything about is how the the man who was shown having sex with Tyler Clementi is doing. He's having to deal with having been shown having sex with another man on the Internet & also with the fact that the man he had sex with killed himself. I hope he'll be OK & that he's getting whatever help & support he needs.

Oct. 04 2010 10:24 AM

The thing about this case is that it's not clear, at least to me, that the roommates knew Mr. Clementi was gay. Mr. Clementi probably wouldn't have killed himself if he were "outed" as a heterosexual fellow being intimate with a woman - being "outed" as straight like this is a gross violation of privacy, but it's not devastating the way it can be for someone who's gay, in our culture which rejects homosexuality as somehow abnormal, defective, etc.

If the roommates didn't know Mr. Clementi was gay, they are guilty of egregious stupidity, but probably don't have any moral responsibility for Mr. Clementi's death. If they did, though, then yes, they do bear some responsibility.

Oct. 04 2010 10:24 AM

I find it hard to believe that an 18 year old would have no idea that web casting someone's sexual encounter would have consequences. Or that this was an act of unbelievable meanness. I think it speaks more to what is going on in high schools that colleges now need to deal with.

Oct. 04 2010 10:24 AM
Sheree from Manhattan

Such a sad case. The life of the young man who committed suicide, his family, the two students who pulled this awful prank---so much sorrow over such a thoughtless, mean act.

Big Brother is indeed watching us and Big Brother is us---camera phones, web cams, etc. etc.---there's no privacy anywhere anymore.

Oct. 04 2010 10:23 AM

Lets baby ever one for the rest of there life's. The weak in mind take care of them self.

Oct. 04 2010 10:22 AM
mom of a freshman from New York

The actions of the roomate and the girl whose computer he used constitute dissemination of porn. i would like to see these two kids punished because they are criminals. unfortunately, you cannot punish people for being disgusting, unfeeling jerks; they are that, too. Gay or straight, Tyler Clementi was the victim of a crime, whether or not that crime led to his suicide. It is sad all around.

Oct. 04 2010 10:22 AM

NJ statute:

"A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of an offense ...
under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed ... the victim ... was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim's ... sexual orientation...."

Oct. 04 2010 10:20 AM
Laura from UWS

Daily Kos website has had a serious of diaries and comments about the fact that there is no national law protecting GLBT people and how few colleges have policies about it, either.

This was in the context of the case of the first openly gay class president at Ann Arbor being cyber-stalked and bullied by an assistant attorney general.

One link:

Oct. 04 2010 10:19 AM

Bullying needs to be addressed starting in elementary, middle and high school. There seems to be no clear cut way or protocol for dealing with these peer issues especially when families are involved. The solution is often to treat both the bullier and object of the bullying as equally culpable. In college it's student to student or the community but in the younger years it involves parents as well. So it seems to me that work needs to be done from elementary school upward.

Oct. 04 2010 10:19 AM
Ben from Manhattan

Did the roomate know Tyler was gay? Either way, streaming your roomate's makeout session is horrible without the hate crime enhancement.

Oct. 04 2010 10:16 AM

The lesson here is that young people commit suicide for multiple reasons, and it's usually a mistake to do so.

Apparently, Tyler notified Rutgers as to what was happening and seemed to think they were sympathetic and that he would be able to switch roommates. At the very least, he knew what was happening and could easily avoid the situation happening again in his dorm room.

To say that his first "tryst" was broadcast widely over the Internet is an exaggeration. It's true that the second one was going to be broadcast, but that never happened.

The two students acted foolishly, of course, but Tyler clearly did not have to do what he did.

Oct. 04 2010 10:16 AM
john from office

This is a very sad case. For both the victim and the two students that did this wrongful deed. However, these two students are kids, who made a terrible mistake. But look at the culture, there is a scene in the film American Pie that is alot like this stunt.

Imagine if it had been two white guys who did this, it would have been the end of the world.

Oct. 04 2010 10:16 AM
JJ from ct

Sad stuff. Obviously, he had lots of problems to take this extreme step. However, privacy is the main issue. Also, women are humiliated daily online ... men and women should have a right to privacy - even online. I hope to God this is not considered a "standard prank" for college freshmen.

Oct. 04 2010 10:16 AM
Profwilliams from Montclair

Isn't bullying a pervasive and ONGOING thing?

This shocking tragedy is a wanton invasion of privacy. But I don't see it as bullying in any understanding of the word.

And shouldn't we discuss why Tyler felt taking his life was the only answer- not to forgive the roommate, but I think your guest is right on the money it seems like there is more.

Oct. 04 2010 10:16 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

C'mon, this is not bullying but this is an egregious violation of privacy and a terrible practical joke gone wrong - the perp needs to be punished, perhaps even with a little jail time, but the fact that the gay interest groups have taken this up as a "hate" crime shows how poorly our society is dealing with this issue. I would be embarrassed and humiliated and angry as hell to have my sex life streamed online but it wouldn't enter my mind to commit suicide, and I think that is true of almost every other heterosexual person I know or have known my whole life - the real problem is the society we live in and the hateful attitudes that are permissible from persons in authority like politicians and business leaders that create a climate of fear and intimidation for gays.

Oct. 04 2010 10:14 AM

doesn't the Clementi case go above and beyond cyber bullying of the past - I mean a webcam streaming sexual encounters in one's private's a "stepped-up" form of bullying - yes?

Oct. 04 2010 10:01 AM

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