Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sticks and Stones

The following is my personal opinion, and shared here out of concern for our students.  It is not
necessarily that of WL Central HS, or Walled Lake Schools.

"Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But names
Will never hurt me."

We teach this to our children to help them cope with bullies at school when they are little.  It seems that all of us were made fun of at one time or another on the playground, and perhaps this little saying was enough to remind us that they were just words.

But, did our parents ever envision a day when these words would be heard throughout the world?  A day when with a single mouse click that teasing would be heard not by the four or five nearby kids, but by every visitor to Twitter, or Facebook?  Facebook boasts 500 million active users, which is staggering when you consider that the population of the US is 300 million, give or take a few.

The news is now reporting on a young man at Rutgers who took his life after his roommate alegedly videotaped him sharing an intimate moment, and aired the tape on the internet.  To the roommate this was a fantastic prank, a great chance to tease the man he shared a dorm room with.  I doubt that Ravi, the roommate who alegedly placed the camera, envisioned such an end to this story. 

Cyber-bullying is not new.  On occassion we even glorify it in film. It is not often this tragic.   But when it is, it reminds us that it is something we cannot ignore.  These actions have real consequences, and our students and children have access to the world in ways we could not even imagine five years ago, let alone twenty.  We are trying to stop it.  California has passed a law that will make it illegal to impersonate someone online for malicious reasons.  But there are doubts that this law will survive a challenge due to considerations of Freedom of Speech.

This is an age of the viral video, where we are all looking for the chance to make the next big splash, to push the envelope, to get our names known.  Instead of competing with a few others in a class, we are competing with the world.  How much were these two motivated by vitriol and how much of it was a naive pursuit of fame at being the ones to post this video?

I have no answers, only more and more questions.  I am left watching my 2 year old play with his dinosaurs and wonder what the world will be like for him.

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