The Dangers of the Twitter, Facebook Streams

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

The Dangers of the Twitter, Facebook Streams

FacebookPerhaps one of the most frightening things about social media is how it so easily permits people to say terrible things about each other with the click of a button. From knocking someone’s outfit to debasing someone’s intellect to spreading rumors about provocative behavior, social media has become a bully’s best friend – allowing that individual to tarnish reputations and write in permanent marker on the cyberspace walls.

When I was in middle school and high school, things such as Twitter, Facebook and Myspace did not exist. Accordingly, bullying was more of a face-to-face problem and you often knew if someone was targeting you. Nowadays, children can go days or even months without knowing that they are being subjugated in cyber world and having their name run through the mud.

But for those that do know that their name is being slandered, what are they expected to do? They can sit there and read the Facebook and Twitter streams, the posts and status updates, but what can they really do to make that person stop? Confront the person who is writing about them? Go to the authorities?

When I worked at a newspaper in Connecticut, I saw firsthand how tough it is to get the authorities involved when it comes to cyberbullying. The specific incident I am thinking of is when an adult decided to create a fake Facebook account under a 17-year-old girl’s name, using the girl’s picture. The adult then took to the social networking site to post as if she was the girl (and the posts were often evocative and referenced illicit matters). That case took months to address as police couldn’t even figure out who had created the account until enlisting the help of Facebook, which naturally took a while.

The fact that anyone out there can create a social networking account under your name, pretending to be you and writing posts from you, is beyond troubling. Further, our ability to know what others think of us can be extremely upsetting.

In the case of Tyler Clementi – the Rutgers University freshman who took his own life when he learned his roommate had taped and streamed an intimate encounter he had with another man – it was clearly all too much.

According to new evidence released, in the two days before Tyler committed suicide, Tyler allegedly checked his roommate Dharun Ravi’s Twitter feed almost 40 times in the final 48 hours of his life, in which he saw the tweets about him and his partner. Some of Ravi’s most hurtful tweets included: “Turned on iChat and saw my roommate making out with a dude. Yay” and "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it's happening again." Just hours after that, Tyler took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

This week, the trial continues against Ravi, who is charged with 15 offenses, including bias intimidation, a hate crime, but not with causing Tyler’s suicide, and faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

My message is simple: realize that with every post and tweet you write you are creating your personal brand and image. An image that at 15 might not mean much to you but at 25, when you are trying to start your career, could mean a whole hell of a lot. After all, do you want your future employers to be able to check your Internet history to find out that you spent most of your adolescent years picking on others and damaging their reputations?

And perhaps more importantly, are you realizing that in addition to hurting yourself and your image, your negative comments about others are leaving those that you target feeling helpless and fearful, with no place left to turn like Tyler.

Let’s stop hurting each other. Let’s keep our eyes on the Tyler Clementi case as a constant reminder of how social media can play a huge part in destroying two people’s lives.



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Carrie, even I, who am an adult, have experienced being bullied by people who were fellow employees and who were in my industry. It has happened six different times since 1999, ranging from periods of 6 - 12 months of online abuse. It is very painful because like you said, no one could nor wanted to help me with the problem. I don't understand why and how someone can make up lies about me or you or Tyler and put so much effort into that attempt at destruction.

Oddly enough, for me, my response that gets the best results is first to confront the person in public online with the facts and then ignore it after that. I wonder what other people do?

Thanks for your insightful comments Suzanne. It really is such an epidemic.

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