Social Media: Weapon or Tool?

In the last three weeks, four (possibly five) young teens have taken their own lives. They are part of what the press has been calling a streak of “gay-related suicides.” Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old who attended Rutgers, jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate recorded a sexual encounter of him with a webcam, then streamed it over the internet.

Beyond these deaths, another openly gay college student is being cyber-bullied: by the Assistant Attorney General of Michigan. Chris Armstrong has been stalked, harassed, and is the subject of a bigoted blog called “Chris Armstrong Watch,” all courtesy of Andrew Shirvell, an employee of Attorney General Mike Cox. Shirvell attempted to defend himself on CNN to Anderson Cooper last week (see video below), by saying that his personal and professional lives are separate, and that the blog is within his First Amendment Rights.

So here we are. Five kids are dead, and another has filed a personal protection order against a state employee, all because of harassment. And some of this harassment was delivered via social media vehicles – streaming video and blogging. At what point is content that we post on the internet not protected by the First Amendment?

For Clementi, he wasn’t safe in his own dorm room, because his roommate felt the need to record him without his consent, and then broadcast it over the widest reaching outlet possible. Clementi’s roommate and his accomplice should be punished.

I also feel that Shirvell should be reprimanded for his actions against Armstrong. Sure, Shirvell has the right to post his opinions, like how I am here. However, I am not a state-paid employee, who should be held to a higher standard than common citizens. I do not feel this behavior is very becoming for a state employee. Even Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Graholm’s Facebook status last week stated she would have “fired Shirvell by now.”

The risk of new media is that how we use it depends entirely on us. These two examples exhibit the darker side of social media, and how it can be used as a weapon rather than a tool.

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~ by julieesmer on October 4, 2010.

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