Lately, the take-away from the Dharun Ravi webcam case has been the 30 days of jail time that Ravi must serve as part of his sentence. Was this fair? Or was it too lenient?
Dharun Ravi was a student at Rutgers University who set up a webcam in his room, which he used to spy on his roommate Tyler Clementi. Ravi and a friend saw Clementi kissing another man by footage captured on the webcam. Ravi then tweeted about what he saw. Two days later, Clementi killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. This emotional case was splashed across headlines, bringing up issues of hate crimes, anti-gay teen bullying, and suicides.
However, the issue to address is not what the 30-day jail sentence might mean in a case about bullying or even what a worthy punishment should be. When the judge issued the sentence, he noted that he did not believe that Ravi hated Clementi, but that Ravi was immature and his behavior was highly insensitive.
Whether Ravi hated Tyler Clementi because he was gay is harder to substantiate, but it is clear that Ravi acted thoughtlessly and violated many boundaries. And Ravi is not the only one. Many young people who have grown accustomed to socializing primarily on the Internet continue to violate such boundaries by airing their problems on the web, instead of addressing them in person, and saying things about a person that they are unlikely to say to the person’s face.
The luxury of the Internet as a social tool has brought with it some undesired consequences. For many, when using the Internet, inhibitions are lowered and certain (often negative) traits are amplified. While society vows to put a stop to bullying, the definition of bullying has continued to evolve. We cannot rely on legal punishments to define bullying.
Rather, we should focus on basic respect and boundaries that everyone should uphold. We should keep the dialogue constant because as the Internet evolves, young people will need continued guidance on how these boundaries translate to behavior and interactions online. We should not have to wait for another incident of suicide to rewrite the law, or to prompt a discussion on this issue. Now, it is too late for Tyler Clementi, and also for Dharun Ravi, who will have to live with the consequences of his actions long after his 30-day sentence. (end)