Just a note on this article, looking back on “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” — I read this in two sittings, and the first was only interrupted to go to class. It’s a very long article but well worth the read, and I’m not sure if it was just extremely well written or because it was told in a narrative form about something closely related to us (or both), but it held my attention easily for long periods of time.
Two college roommates, a webcam, and a tragedy.
If you don’t already know the backstory: Tyler Clementi was a Rutgers student who had a roommate (Dharun Ravi) that recorded him via webcam having a sexual encounter with another man and then later shared it on the Internet. Three days later, Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge. The trial recently began, a year and a half after the event.
Technology was greatly involved in this incident, including the use of social media, particularly Twitter. Before the two men met each other, Ravi did a Google search with his soon-to-be-roommate’s email address that plugged him with info from various sites, including Justusboys, a gay pornography site. Ravi managed to find out a lot about Tyler just through “stalking” him a bit on Google, without even knowing his last name, only an email address. This shows how easily anyone can find out information about anyone knowing only minimal information.
While finding all of this information, Ravi was instant messaging friends with derogatory comments that were later used in his court case. Tyler was also involved in IMing with friends his thoughts about Ravi and asking for advice. Text message conversations were dug up and used against Ravi and his friend Molly Wei as evidence that they are guilty of the crimes committed.
Ravi used Twitter to publicize the fact that he recorded his roommate having sexual encounters with another man:
Ravi’s resolve not to publicize the experience lasted for three or four minutes. At 9:17 P.M., he tweeted, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Before Ravi locked down his Twitter account, a few days later, he had about a hundred and fifty followers, the bulk of them friends from high school. It’s possible that he still thought of his Twitter audience as a group no larger than those followers. In truth, his audience could have included anyone who searched on Twitter for “Dharun.” Perhaps Ravi expected Clementi to read his tweet; or perhaps he didn’t bother to consider that he might. This issue may become important to a jury, given the seeming conflict between a charge of invasion of privacy and a charge of bias intimidation, both charges that Ravi faces. Spying is secret, and intimidation is not.
Ravi’s Twitter posts were monumental in this case. Whether Ravi knew or not, Tyler would read posts about himself and judging by distressed posts he made on Justusboys, ultimately helped him in his decision for suicide.
Discussions of cyberbullying arose from this case from Ravi being a teenager posting such updates on Twitter and inviting his followers to join him in watching his roommate have an intimate session.
None of this could have possibly happened without recent technology and communication on a web and mobile platform.
The article states:
In the late afternoon, he [Tyler] texted Ravi: “Could I have the room again like 9:30 till midnight?” Ravi replied, “Yeah no problem,” and then sent a text to Molly Wei: “He wants the room again.” She replied, “?!? WTF.”
One of the above Twitter posts was deleted completely, and the other was modified to say something different. These actions as well as the text messages were used as evidence against Ravi and Wei in court. Common access to computers has drastically changed how trials are run: 15 years ago, instant messaging wasn’t so common, Twitter didn’t exist. Webcams had just entered the public market. I find it incredible how technology has moved so quickly and progressed our lifestyles into something more advanced and allowed things – both negative and positive – to happen that could never have happened before.