Whether it’s the recent release of the film “The Social Network” or the prevalence of things like Facebook in our day to day lives, focus on a recent story about an 18-year-old student at Rutgers who committed suicide after being outed in an invasive manner has shifted to cyber-bullying.
It’s an issue that’s certainly deserving of attention,but I also think it’s a bit misguided. The use of the phrase “cyber bullying” implies behaviors and attitudes towards other individuals that didn’t exist to this extent before the advent of the internet, which simply isn’t the case.
Here’s the thing: the internet has made it seemingly easier to spread gossip about people. I say “seemingly” because rumors, half-truths, and scandals have permeated the student bodies of high schools and colleges long before the first cell phones hit campuses. It seems easier to spread this information using the internet, but only because kids have found a different way of interacting with each other. Instead of telling everyone they run into face to face, they’re posting it on Facebook or sharing it through text.
This changes the process, but does not modify its frequency or severity. Nor is it more serious because it’s on the internet, or more specifically Facebook. Sites like it and Twitter have, if anything, decreased the staying power of things like this. So much is presented in such quick succession that a rumor drops out of sight – further down the “Wall” if you will – in very little time.
More embarrassing and intrusive? Maybe and definitely. Still, while it’s a conversation worth having, it’s not the one that I feel is most pertinent to this case.
Tyler Clementi didn’t kill himself because he was harassed online. He killed himself because he was gay and made to feel that he should be ashamed and that there was something wrong with it.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the conversation we should be having. But we’re not, because it’s not a pleasant one. As progressive as we like to think we are, there are still far too many people who think it’s okay to dislike or even disapprove of homosexuals. The problem is that homophobia is rooted in religious beliefs and what are considered holy texts.
Combating bigotry can seem like an insurmountable task when religion gives an excuse for homophobic attitudes.
Not that I said “excuse” and not “reason.” There are plenty of Christians and congregations that not only don’t denounce homophobia, but openly accept homosexuals into their fold and celebrate them for who they are. The justification seems shaky when presented with such fervent opposition from most organized Christian churches. But keep in mind that folks will openly acknowledge context of when holy books were written so they can write off or ignore behaviors, rituals, and rules that don’t jive with modern culture. Many of these are mentioned with equal and, in many cases, greater frequency than homosexuality.
Using Facebook or Twitter to bully or harass someone is wrong. Using any medium to bully or harass someone is wrong. What’s completely unforgivable is that we live in a country that still makes gay teens (and many adults) feel ostracized, threatened, and ashamed of who they are. Homophobia is the last truly forgivable hate in the United States, and it’s not going to go anywhere so long as we pretend there’s room for dialogue, discussion, compromise, or outright acceptance of animosity and disdain towards homosexuals.
Railing about kids being cruel on Facebook and Twitter goes after the symptom, but it doesn’t address the pervasive disease of bigotry that forces young men and women to take their own lives because they were made to feel that who they are is immoral and wrong.
If only we had people in positions of authority brave enough to take an authoritative stance on the matter. Unfortunately, there are few of them in Washington, and seemingly just as few in Albany.
Now there’s something to REALLY get angry about.
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