US death puts focus on cyberbullies

Suicide of gay teenager persecuted online puts spotlight on new technology's role in the old problem of bullying.

    Experts say bullies are using social networking websites to persecute young people, driving some to suicide [AFP] 

    The suicide of a US student, who killed himself after footage of him kissing a man was broadcast on the internet using a hidden camera, has raised major concerns over the cyber-bullying amongst America's youth.

    Tyler Clementi, 18, a first year student at Rutgers University, jumped from a New York bridge after his university room-mates set up a camera and streamed footage of him engaged in a homosexual act over the internet.

    Three days later, Clementi, a talented violinist, threw himself off the New York's George Washington bridge after leaving a suicide note on his Facebook page. The room-mates, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, have been arrested for invading Clementi's privacy, and could be charged with hate crimes over the incident.

    Steven Goldstein, a homosexual rights activist said such bullying amounted to persection. "The New Jersey hate crimes law encompasses invasion of privacy and exactly the kind of situation that Tyler Clementi faced. The law is clear. We at Garden State Equality will not relent in calling for a hate crimes prosecution."
     
    The case has put the spotlight on the way in which new technology is being used by bullies to target their victims, and is driving some to take their own lives, experts have said.  

    Cyberbullying is a growing phenomenon in the US, where experts say increased access to mobile cameras and social networking sites amongst young people is allowing bullies to maximise the impact of their persecution. 

    "Kids have been bullying each other for generations. The latest generation, however, has been able to utilize technology to expand their reach and the extent of their harm," a research paper on the website www.cyberbullying.us says.

    According to the site, estimates of youths who have endured cyberbullying vary from 10 to 40 percent and is likely to be about 20 percent of 11- to 18-year-olds.

    Gay teenagers are particular targets. Jowharah Sanders, an anti-bullying advocate, said Clementi was one of at least four teenagers who committed suicide across the United  States in September after gay-related harassment.

    The others were a 15-year-old who hanged himself in Indiana, a  13-year-old who shot himself in Texas, and just this week another 13-year-old who died in hospital in California days after hanging
    himself.

    "It's got to stop," said Sanders, president of National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment. "It is turning more and  more deadly. More children are dying and we're speaking up about it."

    Social networking sites are also being used to oppose bullying. A Facebook page set up as a memorial to Clementi quickly  attracted thousands of followers, while hundreds visited another page urging Rutgers students to wear black on Friday in his memory.

    "We must fight this once and for all... Hate Crimes, bullying, stalking, invasion of privacy and the pain of having your personal life shattered because of your sexual orientation," the Tyler Clementi Memorial Facebook page says.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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