Andrew Shirvell | Bullying | News

Tyler Clementi's Story Unfolded Online, But Offers Real Life Lessons


We've never seen anything quite like the Tyler Clementi tragedy. While anti-gay bullying and taunting are, sadly, part and parcel of contemporary life, 18-year old's Clementi's story includes many dangerous elements that are rarely put together on the national stage, thus helping to illuminate the impact of the 21st century's brand of homophobia. The end result, if we're lucky, will be a revival of a seemingly outdated concept: civility.

"This is a highly rare occurrence," a Rutgers University official said about Clementi, the freshman who committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another student, Molly Wei, streamed his hookups with other men across the campus. They have been charged with invasion of privacy.

The events leading to Clementi's suicide unfolded online, starting with a computer camera and Ravi's Twitter account, through which he invited other students to watch, and ending with Clementi's Facebook message, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." There also appears to be evidence of Clementi's anguish at the gay site JustUsBoys.

Gawker posted messages left by a user calling himself "cit2mo," who describes a situation very similiar to Clementi's: "the other night I had a guy over," he wrote, "[My roommate] tweeted I was using the room ...And that he went into somebody else's room and remotely turned on his webcam." The reaction, according to cit2mo, was not good: repulsed people commented on the roommate's profile asking, "How did you manage to go back in there?"

The user cit2mo, whose postings match the time line of Clementi's struggle, goes on to discuss how he felt the entire thing was homophobic: "I feel like it was 'look at what a fag my roommate is'... And the fact that the people he was with saw my making out with a guy as the scandal, whereas, I mean come on, he was SPYING ON ME... Do they see nothing wrong with this?"

Sadly, too many people would focus on the "negative" aspect of gay sex, rather than the malicious invasion of privacy.

Cyber-bullying remains a persistent problem in America: over 40% of teenagers report being bullied online. As our lives become even more intertwined with the internet, age old homophobia will only continue to fester in virtual realms.

Just look at the Andrew Shirvell case: his own boss, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, calls him a cyber bully, again against a gay person. That doesn't mean, of course, that bullying doesn't exist in the real world, too.

In addition to showing the dangers of cyber-bullying, Clementi's story, rare for all the attention it has received in mainstream media, shows the dangerous repercussions of homophobia, something we all saw this week with the deaths of Asher Brown and Seth Walsh, both of whom committed suicide.

Clementi's life and death come just as Rutger's University launches its Project Civility, a series of lectures and discussions that intends to create a "more charitable campus culture" and provide an "ongoing inquiry about the nature of true respect for others."

In light of Clementi's suicide, unique, yet involving so many ubiquitous, oft-ignored themes - cyber-bullying, homophobia and suicide - Rutger's announced they will incorporate his story into Project Civility's programming. Hopefully all the attention will help spread civility to the general public, too, for they must sit up and realize that seemingly minor jabs or taunts, online or off, are fueling a crisis that's claiming lives.

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  1. Folks, let your brains do a little more work than your emotions here. First, the invasion of privacy charges are about the most appropriate and relevant ones applicable here. Murder charges, no legal basis whatsoever. Even involuntary manslaughter would be as difficult to sustain a legally acceptable argument. Check out Lexis. The suspects - cruelly irresponsible as they were -- did not murder Clementi. However, they certainly were intent on deliberately humiliating him.

    And the pathetically amateurish detective thinking here (re: justusboys et al) is useless for any meaningful discussion. I doubt anyone here is privy to the material facts of the case that have yet to be fully collected and assimilated.

    As I mentioned earlier, some people are wired to be mean and doubly so. I guess some people would say that it was a prank gone astray. What the suspects did, however, was cross the line - a deliberate humiliation episode. To a mature, pragmatic, intelligent individual, that would seem as being excessively mean and potentially emotionally injurious. Admirable as Keith's comments were, my mind falls more in line with Tank's response. How does one teach disposition?

    Posted by: Les roka | Sep 30, 2010 2:39:24 PM

  2. I still wonder after all this time why there has been no announcement that the offenders have been expelled. I don't expect them to be imprisoned or banned from any other college in the end, but I would expect them to be tossed immediately from Rutger's.

    Posted by: Mark | Sep 30, 2010 2:42:18 PM

  3. "the pathetically amateurish detective thinking here (re: justusboys et al)"

    Are you seriously suggesting that the JustUsBoys posts are not the same person?

    Posted by: crispy | Sep 30, 2010 2:52:41 PM

  4. @TANK Every once in a while you get one right.

    I think the "Aldo Gutmann" who's lousing up the Facebook memorial for Mr. Clementi is probably Andrew Shirvell (AG in MI).

    Posted by: jamal49 | Sep 30, 2010 3:03:32 PM

  5. Moral guilt is one thing, but criminal guilt is another: I can't imagine any experienced (or inexperienced) prosecutor bringing manslaughter charges, much less murder counts in this case: the legal elements simply aren't there. There is nothing intrinsically life-threatening in brutally humiliating someone, even if that person then chooses suicide. These students created a situation which this young man decided to resolve by killing himself, but they could never be held criminally liable for his death.

    On the other hand, I think the young man's family could win a civil lawsuit affirming at least the roommate's responsibility for his death, since the standards in civil court are different than the requirements for criminal conviction. On the other hand, the roommate probably has few assets and the judgment would be largely symbolic - as well as expensive for Clementi's family, since the attorney's billable hours to bring this action would add up to a subsstantial bill (and many attorneys, especially the best ones, will not pursue a case where the defendant has no means to pay the judgment). Also, it's entirely possible that a jury could still decide that Clementi was ultimately responsible for his own death and find for the defense.

    Again, moral guilt is one question, legal liability another. It's never good to mix the two up.

    Posted by: Sancho | Sep 30, 2010 3:03:45 PM

  6. On the article outlining JustUsBoys posts, someone left a comment that raises really important points:

    "No matter if all the clues seem to fit, and even if "cit2mo" was posting about the same actual incident, we need to be very cautious not to assume it's fact.

    Same as the proverbial third person, "I have a friend who..." when seeking advice on a private matter, for all we know, "cit2mo" could be a close friend with knowledge of the situation posting in the first person. Just as plausible, (and not to add speculation) but to point: It's just as logical "cit2mo" could even be the still unknown other victim(s).

    Isn't it owed to Tyler the respect of further speculation concerning his state of mind...?"

    Think on that. ....

    Rutgers University will not release any information... So we don't actually know if the incident(s) of violating privacy have been reported or if it's been reported by multiple students. I've seen videos of "students" interviewed regarding Tyler's death, but haven't seen one of Tyler's RA interviewed (which would seem likely if he actually did talk with his RA about the incident). I think the possibility that cit2mo COULD be another student going through the same thing elsewhere on campus is not that far fetched (who knows who Ravi might have been communicating with through his Twitter posts, possibly signal a friend to do the same thing to their roommate). And if the JustUsBoys posted are true (the person said he unplugged his roommate's computer after he noticed it was aimed at him a second time)... how come none of Ravi's Twitter feed read something like, "damn, he must've figured it out.. sorry no show tonight folks!"...?

    cit2mo could be a friend posting for advice on JustUsBoys under Tyler's name b/c Tyler was too much of a wreck to talk about it... who the heck knows!

    The truth is that none of us know for sure. So we can't act like we know. Things aren't always what they seem.

    Posted by: things aren't always what they seem | Sep 30, 2010 3:09:37 PM

  7. If you read the post carefully, there is NO absolute confirmation. The caveats are even within the post. 'Likely' is not incontrovertible proof. You're believing that the assumption has been verified. It's ALL circumstantial at this point.

    As a writer, researcher, and journalist, I was trained to verify, verify, and verify every element and fact in an article, report, and presentation. A preponderance of any and all evidence requires you to eliminate all the probabilities of alternate explanations. That includes vetting all of your sources for credibility AND authenticity. And, that means considering the context within which the information is presented.

    As tempting as it might be to play a parlor game and guess what's going on in the mind of a young man about whose tragically shortened life you have just come to learn the news of, I think it's far more prudent to suspend judgment and comment until it indeed has been verified by the authorities.

    I believe the young man's memory deserves a respectful sense of prudent judgment at this point. It is not to satisfy mere curiosity in the absence of fully vetted information.

    Posted by: Les roka | Sep 30, 2010 3:09:44 PM

  8. If only he hadn't killed himself or had someone talk him out of it, my bet is he would have laughed about the whole thing in a few years. Unbelievable to kill yourself just over something as obnoxious but silly as this. His poor family and friends will never get over it. I can't imagine the pain they'll be at the Clementi family gatherings this holiday season.


    Posted by: ratbastard | Sep 30, 2010 3:11:29 PM

  9. Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, welcome to the world of civil lawsuits and say good-bye to your trust funds.

    Also, I work in the hiring process of a major corporation, and don't imagine one moment, that their shameful involvement won't be discovered each time they apply for a job.

    Posted by: Windy | Sep 30, 2010 3:14:31 PM

  10. I don't believe anyone here is suggesting that the JustUsBoys thread be presented as factual evidence by the District Attorney. And if a blog forum is not a suitable place for "parlor game" discussion and conjecture, then what exactly do you suggest blog forums are for?

    But honestly, you gotta be pretty fucking stupid to not realize that's the same person.

    PS: Les Roka, no offense, but you're sort of a douchey writer. Your copy carries that haughty, condescending tone that's so common among "trained journalists." Maybe you should have spent more of your time training to verify, verify, verify actually learning how to write, write, write the way real people read, read, read. Just one trained journalist to another.

    Posted by: crispy | Sep 30, 2010 3:32:23 PM

  11. It's amazing how much the world has changed since I was in college. For me, this type of thing is common place, even a rite of passage in college. When I was in school we had to physically block the door when things were heating up because our RA would use his pass key to barge in with a Polaroid camera! If you got drunk and passed out at a party, you'd be stripped naked, drawn on, posed performing fellatio or something with someone else who passed out, pictures of all of it taken, and they'd be everywhere the next day.

    Yes, it is very sad that this guy killed himself. Yes, the homophobic comments of the memorial page and the comments when the video was being broadcast are horrible. My condolences go out to his family and friends. There is just something about this whole story that is off to me. Like why didn't Clementi cover up the web cam? That would have been my second thing to do after barring the door. It seems he was out and active, so why the shame? Isn't getting laid a badge of honor among college guys anymore?

    I don't know, this all reeks of something more to me. Be it a 4chan prank or something more sinister.

    Posted by: Marcus | Sep 30, 2010 3:41:40 PM

  12. Civility? We can't even get a civil discussion of this on gay blogs. I've seen comments calling Tyler Clementi "stupid" for being so desperate/frightened he did what he did. And look at some of the comments in this very thread.

    The same human nature that causes bullying causes this kind of asshattery. It's all--ALL OF IT--an illustration of human nature at its worst.

    Posted by: jomicur | Sep 30, 2010 3:51:40 PM

  13. ' Ravi's friends say there's more to the story, and tell the Rutgers student paper that on the first night Clementi asked to be alone in the room, Ravi spied via the webcam because he was concerned about his roommate's guest:

    Students said Clementi asked his roommate Ravi to leave the room so that he could have time alone with a guest on the evening of Sept. 19. A strange, older male later arrived at the room, they said. Ravi went to Wei's room, where he used a computer to access footage of the room from his webcam, they said.


    There's much more to this story than currently known. It will come out.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Sep 30, 2010 4:00:03 PM

  14. I know Andy is on vacation, but isn't anybody monitoring the comments? Somebody please take down Mike NYC's racist and dangerous remark. The horror of this tragedy and the despicable nature of the acts of the perpetrator bullies does not excuse such intolerance and bigotry. If there is one thing that this website and its readers must stand for it is a refusal to condone such commentary. Free speech rights on this blog ends where hatred based on immutable characteristics begins.

    Posted by: Robert | Sep 30, 2010 4:25:11 PM

  15. One of the things I can't stand about the Slate website is the facile contrarianism that is so common on the site. Today there's "don't rush to blame the accused" post there that's truly warped.

    Posted by: Butch | Sep 30, 2010 4:26:19 PM

  16. Butch,

    No one denies this guy Ravi was dicking around. No one denies that Tyler's privacy was violated. What's legitimately debatable is was it really malicious on Ravi's part, let alone the chick, whose apparent only involvement is her laptop was used.

    Now an appropriate proportionate response, within the confines of the law, hopefully will be achieved in a court. Part of the problem I have is Tyler's response was totally disproportionate and so wrong in many ways, it's difficult to comprehend for many people. Two other lives are pretty much hanging in the balance here, and although Tyler chose the extreme measure of suicide, I don't think the other two should be railroaded to satisfy bloodlust. I personally seriously don't think what this guy Ravi did was meant to be malicious and I don't doubt he's as horrified as anyone at Tyler's suicide. Surely no sane person can say Tyler's response was appropriate and measured. There must have been other traumatic things going on in his life to cause him to resort to suicide.

    BTW: Apparently this Ravi dude is also gay. And apparently nothing was really recorded or broadcast, he was just talking smack. I say folks need to wait and see a little longer on this one, it's not as clear cut as originally portrayed.



    Free speech is free speech. If someone feels they've been libeled, that's what courts are for. No one who is intimate with any situation like this should be reading anonymous comments posted online anyways if they value their sanity.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Sep 30, 2010 5:18:05 PM

  17. It might have been murder. I mean someone that TC met somewhere, not his roommate and the woman. However, the Facebook page, if verified, would point to suicide.

    I thought about the invasion of privacy charge, and normally I don't think it would hold up in court because Ravi was the roommate and therefore legally entitled to all room privileges, including surveillance. For example, Ravi may have been worried about theft from visitors. Therefore, he was entitled to film any visitors. This happens all the time with homeowners and parents. They will film robbers and babysitters that steal or abuse the kids. Of course, we all know about convenience store crime footage. As to posting the material online, this type of publishing might be illegal. However, that is not the major charge. Now, TC would also have all privileges too, and could have turned off the camera (as a practical matter in any event) if he had known about it. However, the law will have to decide if he were legally entitled to know about the filming beforehand. This I doubt because roommates can steal from each other. A final thing is that wiretap laws, which are often used for illegal surveillance cases, would not allow recording of sound, but still allow for images. For sound, the recording would have to be within "earshot".

    Posted by: anon | Sep 30, 2010 5:19:09 PM

  18. I saw a new report earlier today showing a picture of the male roommate who did this to Tyler and HE looks like a BIG MO himself!

    There is way more to this story.

    Posted by: Jake | Sep 30, 2010 6:00:00 PM

  19. For heavens sakes! Tragic, yes, but this was not a grade school or high school kid.

    This isn't 1950. Being outed, even in a humiliating manner should not be enough to make anyone commit suicide! This guy was f'ed up in the head.

    Posted by: Really | Sep 30, 2010 6:04:51 PM

  20. I hope that when Daruhn Ravi is gangbanged in prison that will be be streamlined on the internet.

    Posted by: jaragon | Sep 30, 2010 6:41:50 PM

  21. I keep wondering about the other guy who came to Clementi's room. Was he Clementi's boyfriend? A friend with benefits? A Craigslist hookup? Surely the police are looking for him.

    And if Clementi was already out, then maybe his decision to commit suicide was related somehow to that guy's identity or his relationship with that guy, rather than to the mere fact of being revealed as gay via the webcam.

    Posted by: Sancho | Sep 30, 2010 7:31:17 PM

  22. Poor kid..I read he walked a mile from his car to the bridge..can just imagine what he was thinking about while he walked, how alone he must have felt. The posts on the facebook page are terrible, the poor kid's already dead, the homophobes got what they wanted, what, they want to go kick his dead body a few times too? I was watching some of the itgetsbetter vids on youtube, a nice start..RIP Tyler

    Posted by: Joe32 | Sep 30, 2010 7:39:29 PM

  23. Some news pages have put the three photos together, the victim next to his two smiling murders. It's revolting.

    This cannot be let slide. When you commit a crime, and someone dies as a result, even if it is days later, that is murder.

    Posted by: Randy | Sep 30, 2010 10:18:29 PM

  24. So disgusting, it brings shame to my alma mater. This should be prosecuted as a hate crime which is exactly what it is. There need to be serious consequences.

    Posted by: Ted | Sep 30, 2010 11:41:44 PM


    Posted by: JEFFREY in the Bronx | Oct 1, 2010 1:12:24 AM

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