National

Technology blurs line between public, private

HACKENSACK, N.J. —"Going to jump off the gw bridge sorry." Tyler Clementi posted those words on his Facebook page moments before he apparently leapt to his death on Sept. 22, according to a friend.

In the days before, the personal life of the 18-year-old Rutgers freshman had been exposed on the Internet when, authorities say, his roommate used a webcam to surreptitiously broadcast a sexual encounter involving Clementi.

The suicide illustrates the Internet's alarming potential as a means of tormenting others and raises questions whether young people in the age of Twitter and Facebook can distinguish public from private.

Cruel gossip and vengeful acts once confined to the schoolyard or the dorm can now make their way around the world instantly via the Internet, along with photos and live video.

The Twitter page of Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi of Plainsboro, N.J., hinted that Clementi was involved sexually with another man and invited others to watch a live webcam feed from the dorm room.

"Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with another dude. Yay," a Sept. 19 tweet said.

Two days later, Ravi used Twitter to invite others to watch another encounter.

Ravi and another student, Molly W. Wei of Princeton, N.J., have been charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy, the Middlesex County prosecutor and Rutgers police said Wednesday. Ravi faces two additional counts for attempting to view and transmit the second encounter, authorities said.

"His privacy was violated, very, very violated," Rutgers student Daryl Chan said of Clementi. "His roommate was a very tech-savvy-type dude. He set up cameras all over the room and didn't tell him."

The Associated Press found at least 12 cases in the U.S. since 2003 in which children and young adults between 11 and 18 killed themselves after falling victim to some form of "cyberbullying" — teasing, harassing or intimidating with pictures or words distributed online or via text message.

"It's just a matter of when the next suicide's going to hit, when the next attack's going to hit," said Parry Aftab, a New Jersey lawyer who runs the website WiredSafety.org.

Aftab said young people who would never bully someone face to face do it online in part because of the often-false sense of anonymity that the Internet provides.

"They'll also jump on because they don't want to be the next target," Aftab said.

In probably the best-known case, 13-year-old Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., hanged herself in 2006 after she received messages on MySpace — supposedly from a teenage boy — cruelly dumping her. An adult neighbor was later found guilty of taking part in the hoax, but the conviction was overturned.

Earlier this year, 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington of West Islip, N.Y., who had landed a college soccer scholarship, killed herself after receiving a stream of nasty messages.

Gregory Jantz, founder of A Place of Hope, a Seattle mental health care center, said young people who use the Internet to spread something damaging about others often don't realize how hurtful it can be because many of them have grown up in a world that has blurred the line between public and private.

"Our kids are in a different zone now," Jantz said.

Gifted violinist

Those close to Clementi knew a gifted violinist who had played with the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra in high school and won scholarships and awards for his musical abilities.

"He was so incredibly talented — I could not believe how good he was for such a young boy," said Diane Wade, a violinist with the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra who often sat next to Clementi at rehearsals and performances. "Such a nice kid all the way around.... As a parent, he was the way you want your kids to be — polite, courteous, serious about the work he was doing and a hard worker."

Joe and Jane Clementi, Tyler's parents, released a statement through a lawyer Wednesday confirming their son's suicide and said they were cooperating with the ongoing criminal investigation.

"Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician," the statement said. "The family is heartbroken beyond words."

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