Hate and Twitter

The original charges against Dharun Ravi, roommate to Tyler Clementi, whose airing of Clementi’s private encounter has been blamed for Clementi’s subsequent leap off the George Washington Bridge, were based on his invasion of privacy.  And indeed, live streaming Clementi’s encounter was a terrible invasion of privacy, whether Ravi thought it was hysterically funny or otherwise to do so.

But that wasn’t enough for Middlesex County, New Jersey, prosecutors.  Given all the media attention, the primary driving force in law enforcement, and the suicide of a young man presumably caused by the revelation of his sexual preference, somebody had to pay.  Ravi had to pay.

The prosecution disclosed its characteristic of the Funky Junk generation.  But in this age, every tragedy requires that someone be prosecuted, that someone pay.  While it’s impossible to establish a causal connection between Ravi’s conduct and Clementi’s suicide, and likely that whatever drove Tyler to take his life was more than just Ravi’s invasion of his privacy, it won’t stop the prosecution or media from characterizing this as a heinous crime.

Tyler Clementi’s suicide offers an important teaching opportunity, about privacy, sexuality, online pranks and suicide.  Instead, forces with agendas will diminish this by placing all blame on another college kid who, like so many of his age, limited judgment and digital sensibilities, engaged in incredibly stupid conduct.  This isn’t to say that Ravi wasn’t terribly wrong in what he did.  He was.  He should never have invaded Clementi’s privacy.  It’s not funny. It was never funny. 

But to scapegoat Dharun Ravi because someone has to pay for the tragedy of Tyler Clementi’s suicide similarly misses the point.  The wrongfulness of Ravi’s conduct should be, and needs to be, pointed out and drilled into the subconscious of everyone who thinks the internet is a snarky, prank-filled, anything goes zone. 

Instead, Ravi will be hung out to dry for a tragic consequence without a crime beyond the invasion of privacy.  And that’s not enough to make him pay for the death of Tyler Clementi.

14 comments on “Hate and Twitter

  1. abc

    “Clementi committed suicide before anybody knew there was an issue…”

    Actually, he tried to get Rutgers to help him by changing his room assignment. According to several sources, he posted online: “I ran to the nearest RA [residents’ assistant] and set this thing in motion….We’ll see what happens….He seemed to take it seriously….He asked me to e-mail him a written paragraph about what exactly happened….I e-mailed it to him, and to two people above him.”

    Rutgers did not do anything to help. I think this is where “reasonably believed he was a target because of his sexual orientation” comes from.

  2. SHG

    I read Clementi’s attempt to change room assignments very differently.  Had he told the RA that it was because he was being targeted for intimidation by his roommate because of his sexual preference, it seems impossible to imagine that Rutgers would have ignored his request.  Rather, it seems far more likely that his request made no mention of any intimidation by Ravi and was based on some more benign reason.

    Of course, if the content of his explanation to the RA was available, we would know whether his request reflected a belief that he was being intimidated or not.  In the absence of evidence to demonstrate Clementi’s belief, however, it can’t be assumed to prove a criminal charge.

  3. John

    A message that I broadcast to others via twitter is a “tweet” not a “twit”. Although in a way, the latter works better for some of the usage above.

  4. a3

    I *can* imagine that Rutgers would have ignored a request that included information regarding orientation and intimidation. I went to Rutgers, live near Rutgers, most of my friends and neighbors work at Rutgers. Whether it’s the size of the school or indifferent attitudes or some other reason, nothing happens easily or quickly there. Without more specific information we can’t know exactly what communication took place, but I can easily imagine a distressed kid being completely ignored. I hope more information comes out so that if that did happen, the situation will be different for future instances.

    Rutgers is known as one of the most gay-friendly college campuses in the U.S. I can imagine a talented kid choosing to go there, thinking he would be safe, then subjected to a psychological predator (or, as some say, just a rommate with a wacky sense of humor) and ignored when he complained.

    Maybe these charges are not justified, but since the roommate tweeted about him being gay shortly after they moved in together, followed by other tweets and then not just once, but twice, tried to publicize the kid’s activities, I would be interested in learning more about what other types of intimidation may have occurred. And if they cannot prove the criminal charges, then he’ll be acquitted. At least someone seems to be taking this seriously.

  5. SHG

    You no doubt have a better feel for Rutgers than I do, so I’ll defer to you as to the school’s indifference.  It may be that the assumptions are correct, but proof of a crime requires proof, not assumptions.  As for taking the situation seriously, I think that horse left the barn a long time ago.  Bear in mind that it should all be taken seriously, including Ravi being made the scapegoat for a tragedy. 

    Saying that if they can’t prove the charges, he’ll be acquitted is a remarkably naive statement.  If only that were true.

  6. John David Galt

    Suppose we’re playing baseball, and I throw a pitch at a batter’s head. This is relatively common at all levels of the sport, and very rarely causes any injury — but a 90-mph fastball has been known to kill people. By your logic, then, if I kill the batter, I should merely be punished for “reckless endangerment” or some such lesser crime.

    I call BS. You kill it, you eat it.

  7. SHG

    I’ll correct the error of your analogy.  You throw a 90 mph fastball and hit a batter in the head, killing him. You’ve previously made fun of the batter, saying he dressed funny.  You are indicted for his murder.

    But was your pitch intentional or accidental?  To convict you for murder, it must be proven that you intentionall threw the fastball at his head.  They use your prior statements about the batter’s dress as evidence that you disliked him to show that you intended to kill him.  But while the batter wasn’t one of your favorite people, your pitch was never intended to hit the batter in the head.  You just threw a lousy pitch.  Sometimes, it’s just a poorly thrown pitch.

    The burden is on the folks making the charges to prove them, not gloss over the details with assumptions.

  8. asfasf

    You can’t just make up words. An individual message sent on twitter is called a tweet. Given that so much of your post involves technical issues, this dramatically harms its credibility.

    It’s a big problem generally in the law, non-technical lawyer barging in and pontificating about technical matters of which they have little understanding.

  9. SHG

    I’ve been calling them twits from the outset. I know this bothers some people, who are strangely hung up on cutesy twitter language, but that’s what I call them.  If you think this demonstrates lack of understanding, then why waste your time reading it?  

    If it bothers you so much, here’s a solution. Start a blog, write about whatever you think is important and, whenever the opportunity arises, call them tweets. Problem solved.

  10. asfasf

    Your response is a bit peculiar.

    (1) Do you agree that the standard term for a message sent on twitter is “tweet”?

    (2) Do you agree that “twit” is not a standard term for such a message?

    If your answer to (1) is “no”, then you just need to do some research; you are, like many older lawyers, just not familiar with words used to describe technical objects.

    Likewise as to (2), if you believe that “twit” is a standard term, then you are simply mistaken. “twit” is, moreover, somewhat offensive as it’s a slang term for an annoying person.

    Given that, there would seem to be no reason not to use the standard term.

    The two answers you give entirely miss the point.

    The first is that “I’ve been calling them twits from the outset.” Presuming “outset” means, from the outset of twitter.com, then that statement is irrelevant. When twitter was launched, ipso facto it was not pervasive and so the “tweet” nomenclature was not as universal as it is today.

    Your second objection is that this is “cutesy twitter language”. But it’s just the term that is used, just as “packet” is used for an encapsulated sequence of bytes; of “nibble” for half a byte, or any of a million of other technical terms.

    Finally, you write “If it bother you so much…start a blog…call them tweets. Problem solved”.

    I think you should view the attempt by several people to correct your mistakes not as a sign of contempt for your intelligence, but as a sign of respect for the opinions on your blog. Obviously, in most cases, a mistake like this would just be ignore or viewed as a sign of trolling. The fact that we’re treating it serious, not as a troll, suggests we’re trying to improve the presentation of your ideas.

    Of course, if you are trolling, then I suppose it’s partly successful, since some people do comment on that, but it detracts from the ideas you seem to be attempting to describe. The fact of the matter is, that most of the time non-technical, older lawyers misuse technical nomenclature, they are not trolling but are genuinely confused.

  11. SHG

    You need to find something more important to focus on.  The vast majority of readers don’t care. And few do. I’m good with that. If it bothers you and detracts from my writing, then don’t read.  It’s what I say. You can either suffer through it or go elsewhere.  That’s the end of the discussion.

  12. Mark Bennett

    What kind of imaginationless foob not only thinks you can’t make up words, but also tries to enforce that worthless (and, frabjously, nonexistent) rule?

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