Perhaps one of the insightful takes on the now widely reported case of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers freshman whose private liaison was videotaped by a disgruntled roommate and displayed on the web is by Peter Hansen at Jersey Conservative. In his essay, he rightly points the finger where it belongs – at the modern incivility which allows the continual public display of the one’s own private life and the life of others with whom one has differences. As Hansen explains:
The horrible irony is that a fleeting Web shot, so easily forgotten by viewers, is to the victim as shattering as a bullet. The immediate impact is over instantly, but the damage is permanent. Mr. Ravi created an image that could be dredged up from a hard drive at any moment, to haunt Mr. Clementi for the rest of his life. This goes beyond blackmail. It is the reduction of a human life into one degrading instant, forever replayed, allowing no progress and no redemption.
The modern, YouTube way of life puts everyone at the mercy of dirtbags like Mr. Ravi. All it takes is a hidden webcam to destroy anyone, anytime. In its mindless, democratized hyper-intrusiveness, our modern era has become 1984 rolled into A Clockwork Orange. There is not even a moral or prudential code of conduct by which one can avoid exposure. The whim of the vicious decides whose life is destroyed.
There is no turning back the technological clock, but the law and social opprobrium have to be brought to bear to deter people like Mr. Ravi. No doubt the Internet furies will soon descend on Mr. Ravi as if he were a medieval outlaw, and make an example of him. He could hardly cry injustice, and indeed it would make for a grimly satisfying irony. His torment would at least serve the purpose of brutally enforcing a basic social code of decency, which right now in this anarchic online society is perhaps the best that can be hoped for.
This is why as a blogger I go to great pains to make my posts about issues and not personalities; real people live real lives behind what we see on Youtube and Facebook blogging sites. Public figures certainly garner public discussion, but the vast majority of people expressing themselves on the web are ordinary citizens with lives beyond what they express online, and shouldn’t suffer personal attacks for expressing them. As someone who has had his full name used in blog post headlines personally attacking me as an act of revenge, I can relate to how the web can be abused by those without conscience or a sense of common civility. In the case Tyler Clementi it went to the criminal extreme – but we should not fool ourselves here – those who use the web as a means of damaging reputations and personally attacking people at any level are all part of the same spectrum with the perpetrator Dharun Ravi, a man for whom we should reserve our strongest disdain.