I’m sure you were disturbed, as I was, by the story of a young man who committed suicide when his sexual encounter was secretly captured on a video and posted on the Internet. The tragedy is doubly sobering for me because it occurred at Rutgers University where I begin a social media teaching assignment in a few weeks.
I have read no fewer than three blog posts blaming the social web for this incident and after three it was time for me to stop reading.
Humans have an incredible capacity for evil. We like to think of ourselves as civilized but we are not. We are simply contained.
The social web shines a bright light on whatever humans are already doing, both good and bad. Blaming the social web for human evil is like blaming a gun for a war.
Awhile ago I wrote a post predicting that by the end of 2011 there would be a social media crime or crisis that would force the channel to be legislated to some degree, probably around privacy. I doubt this suicide was the case that will do it, but it is inevitable I’m afraid, not because of the inherent problem with the social web, but because of the inherent problems with people.
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.
In probably the best-known case, a 13-year-old girl 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.
The social web has the ability to heal, connect and create but unfortunately, like its human creators, it will always have the ability to destroy.