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A Millean view on: Gay teen commits suicide after cyber bullying scandal

November 29, 2010

Tyler Clementi was an accomplished eighteen year old violinist starting his freshman year at Rutgers’ Piscataway University. His roommate, Dharun Ravi is also an eighteen year old freshman. Dharun Ravi and his classmate Molly Wei are facing up to five years in jail for violation of privacy. Ravi and Wei videotaped Tyler having sex with another male in their dorm room and uploaded the video to YouTube. Due to extreme embarrassment, Tyler took his own life by proceeding to jump off the George Washington Bridge.

As students are becoming more open about their sexuality, schools have turned a blind eye on the bullying of gays. According to Mental Health Care America, gays and lesbians are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts due to the high stress and prejudice that surrounds them. I wondered what Mill would have to say concerning this case of freedom of expression and whether Dharun should be charged with a violation of privacy or a different sentence.

Mill would argue that Dharun has reached a level of maturity to take responsibility for his own actions and he has harmed another through embarrassment and indirectly had a hand in his suicide.  Mill proposed a harm principle to limit the amount of freedom such as

“if he deteriorates his bodily or mental faculties, he not only brings evil upon all who depended on him for any portion of their happiness, but disqualifies himself for rendering the services which he owes to his fellow creatures generally.” (651)

Dharun not only harmed the innocent boy but the family members who depended on him for their happiness and comfort.

This news story is not only heartbreaking but a wakeup call to active facebook, twitter, and YouTube users. It seems like the internet grants us complete freedom of expression to post our opinions, update our statuses, and videos. But in light of this case, people should always be cautious of the content they are posting. Their opinions, videos, and posts can harm large groups of people and have drastic effects. Individuals can learn from the Tyler Clementi case that they can be held responsible for not only the content posted but also their posts can be so damaging emotionally, it could ultimately lead someone to their death.

  1. cgould4 permalink
    November 29, 2010 8:01 PM

    I think the Tyler Clementi case is in fact a perfect example of Mill’s idea of harm. It is obvious that Dharun should be punished because he explicitly caused another to be harmed in a way that drastically curtailed his ability to live as he was living before.

    Upon reading your post, I was very interested in your comment that stated that Dharun should be punished, not only because he caused Clementi to take his own life, but also because Clementi’s family is left without him. This made me think about court cases discussed in my section, one being about a radical church group protesting near funerals of soldiers. In class, a student argued that even though the protests were not specifically hurting the solider, they were hurting the ability of the soldier’s family to grieve and mourn. This student believed that Mill would see this as harm.

    This modern political issue is very much connected to the analysis presented about Clementi’s family. They have lost an important part of their family, and have thus lost his services. This is in fact not allowing his family to live as they have before, and Mill would argue that this is harm.

  2. Sara Mitchell permalink
    November 29, 2010 8:24 PM

    This is a very good post and a great connection to Mill. This tragic event spurred all sorts of outbursts on the freedom of expression, and I definitely agree that Mill would not be on board with this because it resulted in the suicide of a young man. While Mill does believe in the complete freedom of expression, he thinks if any sort of expression or opinion causes intense harm, there should be a limit on that. This situation differs from his beliefs on right vs. wrong opinions and how all opinions deserve to be heard. In this case, there was no discrepancy between right or wrong. What those students did was wrong because they weren’t expressing something that had to do with themselves; they had malicious intent to embarrass that kid.

  3. britneyrupley permalink
    November 30, 2010 1:52 PM

    This is a great post and I really liked how you made Mill relevant to modern times. I completely agree with the arguments presented in your post. I think Mill would be outraged by this instance of bullying and harm. Though, these people who posted the video of Tyler were trying to exercise their freedom and post what they want, it went beyond the realm of freedom and greatly harmed Tyler’s life, causing him to commit suicide, and Mill would agree.

  4. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    November 30, 2010 2:38 PM

    I agree with the interpretation of Mill expressed in the post. Tyler was harmed, even though it was indirectly, but this damage was so great that it lead to his suicide. Mill asserts that opinions should not be silenced, unless an individual is harmed by it. It is hard to describe what “harms” means, so it is up to interpretation. In my opinion Tyler was harmed, his privacy was violated, that, in my opinion does not fit within the parameters of “freedom of speech”, as the video was created solely on the purpose of embarrassing and hurting Tyler.

  5. maqianhu permalink
    November 30, 2010 9:00 PM

    An individual’s freedom ends when it imposes a burden on others. In this case, it is evident that Dharun’s freedom to video tape ended when it violated other’s privacy. It is interesting that you wrote a post on this because my English 124 class was just talking about cyber bullying today. We discussed the various examples of people getting injured due to cyber gossip. And I would agree that Mill would disprove of this videotape because it is not a matter of different opinions, but a violation of privacy.

  6. Molly Niedbala permalink
    December 1, 2010 11:45 AM

    While I do agree that Mill would ultimately have thought Dharun in the wrong (as do I), I think it’s less than black-and-white. Precedent needs be considered. Is it wrong for anyone to broadcast a video of someone without their knowing? Is it wrong only when the videotaped material is “private?” What is considered “private?” What is considered “broadcasted?” How are we to account for different people’s sensitivities? To what degree does it matter from whose computer Dharun did what he did? All of these questions and their implications need to be examined before we simply indite Dharun. As Mill implies in his second chapter, we can learn from other people’s wrongs; they can reinforce our own opinions as to what is “right” and foster discussion about why certain things are right and wrong, fostering critical thinking.

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