Rutgers University will hold a vigil today for 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after video of him engaged in a sexual encounter was transmitted over iChat by his roommate. But as the school plans this "opportunity for the members of the community and our allies to stand together united in peace, healing and social justice," officials are grappling over how to charge Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, the two involved in the broadcast. They are already charged with invasion of privacy, but whether they are further charged with hate crimes or manslaughter, the case shows that for a new generation, privacy is no longer sacred.
Eighteen-year-olds Ravi and Wei are the forerunners of a new generation that may not remember life before things like the internet and cell phones, and where the term "oversharing" isn't in the vocabulary. But there is a large gap between feeling the constant need to update your Twitter account to making plans to share your roommate's sex life without his permission, and even the least tactful Millenial should understand that.
The Times asks, "Just how culpable is an online bully in someone’s decision to end a life?," and attempts to figure out if Ravi and Wei are deserving of hate crime charges because of Clementi's sexual orientation. Professor Warren J. Blumenfeld says cyberbullying is increasingly common on college campuses, and "Those students who are face-to-face bullied, and/or cyberbullied, face increased risk for depression, PTSD, and suicidal attempts and ideation." However, law professor Orin S. Kerr reminds, "There’s an understandable wish by prosecutors to respond to the moral outrage of society, but the important thing is for the prosecution to follow the law." Proving that Ravi and Wei had the intention of driving Clementi to kill himself would be tough, as would proving that they would not have done the same had they discovered Clementi with a girl.
While Kerr agrees that invasion of privacy should be punished seriously, he admits, "it’s college — everybody is playing pranks on everybody else." In this case it seems clear that Clementi and Ravi were not one-upsman pranker pals, but essentially strangers sharing a room. But as foreign as it may be for most, there is the possibility that Ravi just couldn't comprehend the consequences of his actions. Daniel J. Solove, author of “The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet,” said, "We teach people a lot of consequences, but not that what we do online could have serious consequences."
At Rutgers, students have come together to mourn Clementi, and gay rights groups are planning two town hall meetings this week. “From what I understand, I think it is absolutely a hate crime,” student Michelle Yampolsky told CBS 2. "These students picked on him because of his sexuality." But as Kerr says, citizens should be concerned if the state is "prosecuting people not for what they did, but for what the victim did in response." It may be difficult to prove if Ravi and Wei meant for Clementi to commit suicide, but it won't be difficult to prove that what they did was wrong.