It happens every day on a website near you.
The world has not gotten smaller with the advent of the Internet. It has gotten much bigger. Now, we not only have to deal with real hate crimes in the real world, every day we are presented with mean, authoritative, nasty and bile-filled bullies and trolls who don't think twice about what they say or who they harass or at whose expense. We act as silent witnesses as the drama unfolds online.
We justify our right to sling mud at complete strangers and return (repeatedly) to the scene of the crime all under our belief in the First Amendment and our right to Free Speech. Check out this interesting Supreme Court case that will be decided in the coming weeks and see where you draw the line of "right" and "wrong" even under that Free Speech banner. Put yourself in that family's shoes. Put yourself in Clementi's and his parents'.
The discomfort of watching this kind of behavior play out again and again (and again) on the Internet, begs the question, "are we merely witnesses of or silent accomplices to this kind of behavior if we say or do nothing at all?"
We are living in the age of virtual reality hell.
Public lynching and the Holocaust may predate (many of) our existence, but I can't help but think that hate crimes, bigotry, intolerance, racism and bullying are alive and well and have found a much larger playground out in the ether. The continuous taunting, name-calling, willful nastiness, goading, thinking-that-you're-funny-when-you're-not vomit that gets spewed from high horses has been elevated (or devolved) to such a level, it's no wonder that more people feel less inclined to engage in online forums at all. Unless of course, they are the ones committing those very crimes.
For those who use their keyboards as a weapon, please be reminded that no matter how cleverly you dress them up, your words are bullets that can graze, pierce and inflict serious damage. They can destroy the soul of a fellow human being that you may never have known.
"It was a prank" is not going to console those who are left behind if you push someone to the edge. It's too late to ask Tyler Clementi, so you'll just have to ask his parents.
After enduring days, weeks (and possibly longer) of feeling different or being treated differently because of his sexual orientation, a Facebook mobile status update and Twitter account also allegedly linked to Clementi's name, showed him politely apologizing with a message/tweet that read, "jumping off the gw bridge, sorry."
RIP Tyler Clementi. I hope your senseless death teaches us all a much-needed lesson.
Think before you publish.
Lest you find you have blood on your hands.
It may just be dripping from a broken heart.