A more open world?

A more open world? October 6, 2010

In 1998 when I was working as a reporter in Oregon I wrote a story about the rising trend toward younger, more violent criminal offenders. “We’ve been warned that we are going to be dealing with a whole generation of kids without a conscience,” said Maj. Larry Rowan, the county jailer. ” The basic stuff we were all born with, that makes you feel bad when you do wrong — they don’t have it.”

Those who worked at the jail found the behavior of these young offenders troubling: “It’s all about me,” said Deputy Kevin Cooper. “If they’re crying, it’s because they feel sorry for themselves not for their victims.”

I thought of that article after hearing about the suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi. The Rutgers freshman jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, and gal pal Molly Wei, 18, reportedly secretly filmed Clementi engaging in a sexual encounter with another male.

Ravi then allegedly posted a link to his Twitter account in an attempt to provide a live feed from the hidden web-cam.  Twitter accounts can and often are linked directly to Facebook pages, granting access to a wider net of friends and gawkers near and far.

Shortly before his death, Clementi posted a message to his own Facebook account for all the world to see: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

Wei and Ravi are now facing charges of invasion of privacy.  There are some, and I count myself among them, who wish the two were facing manslaughter charges. Although the third-degree offenses that they are charged with have the potential of earning them up to 5 years in prison, the media campaign to exonerate the guilty is already underway.  The likelihood of Wei or Ravi ending up behind bars is akin to me being named the next Pope. It ain’t going to happen, nowhere, no way.

Wei and Ravi’s lawyers and their friends claim that this was no hate crime. Ravi, his friends say, is an open-minded fellow.  Wei’s lawyers say she is the one who has been wrongly treated. They claim the actions of these two were nothing more than a bad prank gone awry. Boredom turned to horrordom.

I’m not buying it. Wei and Ravi aren’t 13-year-old punks clawing for bad-ass bragging rights in the junior high lunch room. They are students at one of the nation’s most notable schools. A basic four-year education at Rutgers runs upward of $100,000 or more. It has been reported that Ravi had a near perfect SAT score.

Any kid capable of writing an essay that grants them entrance into Rutgers knows the difference between a prank and  invasion of privacy. And if they don’t? Well Rutgers might want to revisit their entrance requirements. Best to weed out the riff-raff rather than have to kick them out after they’ve wreaked havoc and brought the glare of national media to your campus.

But then, maybe Maj. Rowan had it right to begin with — maybe Wei and Ravi lack that basic stuff you and I were born with — the thing that makes you feel bad when you do wrong — a conscience.

Did you know there was a time when the Hopi Indians refused to have their pictures taken? They believed that a person who could capture their image could take their soul hostage as well. I am wondering now if the Hopi weren’t on to something. Maybe there is more truth than superstition to that. Certainly it could be argued that the reason Clementi felt he had to take his life is because Ravi and Wei had already taken his soul.

A sacred part of our humanity has been breached and our young are cannibalizing one another as a result.  Clementi isn’t the first victim of that breech and I don’t care how much huffing and puffing you or I do, he won’t be the last.

Contributing to this flagrant disregard for the sacredness of another person’s soul is Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck, as he is known, is the mastermind behind the social networking site — Facebook.  You can find a link to Facebook at the top of this post.

Yes. I’m a Facebook Slut.

The publicity-shy Zuck made headlines a couple of weeks ago when he donated $100 million — yes, $100 million — to the public schools in Newark, N. J. The place where Rutgers wanna-bees constantly fail to graduate high school. His camp denies it, but Zuck’s donation, grand as it was, is nothing more than a preemptive strike — an attempt to downplay the negative portrayal of Zuck in the new film biopic, The Social Network, a fictional account of Zuck based largely in truth, court documents, interviews, and such.

I saw the movie and it has cost me several hours of restless sleep ever since. I’m conflicted. There are many things that I enjoy about Facebook. It  grants me access to a wider audience, allows me to keep in touch with my friends across the nation on a more regular basis, and helps me feel like I’m part of a community of people who care.

On the other hand, it is intrusive and deceptive and growing even more so, as this Rutgers incident shows.  The lie is found in this false sense of intimacy it provides. Facebook was the community that Tyler Clementi turned to in those desperate last moments of his life.

He didn’t call a friend in the neediest hours of his short life.

He Facebooked them.

Zuckerberg has been forthright about what he considers to be the mission of Facebook: “to make the world more open.” What value, if any, such false openness or outright intrusion of privacy has for the citizens of the world has yet to be evaluated. But the value of all that openness for Zuck can be counted in dollars, billions of them, as advertisers circle round us Facebook users like turkey buzzards feasting on road kill.

Don’t be misled. Mark Zuckerberg defines himself as an atheist and, whether it is his youth or his arrogance or both, he attaches little, if any value to protecting the privacy, much less the soul, of another.

Discussing the program he developed in a widely-circulated instant message exchange he had while still a student at Harvard, Zuckerberg reveals his disdain for those who blindly trust him:

ZUCK: if you ever need info about anyone at harvard

ZUCK: just ask

ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns

FRIEND: what!? how’d you manage that one?

ZUCK: people just submitted it

ZUCK: i don’t know why

ZUCK: they “trust me”

ZUCK: dumb fucks.

Money and an orange jumpsuit, it seems, are the only things that separate Zuck, Ravi and Wei from those young violent offenders I first wrote about back in 1998. It is going to take more than a good education and a Facebook status update to cure what ails us now.

Has this more open world rendered us vulnerable to a more disconnected humanity?

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  • Well said, well written Karen, as usual. I wonder about all of this as well. Definitely food for thought.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks, Janie. Yes, still pondering this and its implications myself.

  • John in PDX

    Two sides to every story


    The estimated payout to his ex partner has been estimated to be 100 million +.

    I may be a techno junkie but I am no social junkie. I only go to my facebook page once in a blue moon. I check my kid’s pages once in awhile but they use alternative websites and I will check the postings.

    Except for a couple of sailing sites to discuss technical aspects – this site is the only place I might leave a reply.

    I will email someone if I want to communicate but I don’t text. My sons are 17 & 18 – they got their first cell phones last month.

    I think openness works both ways. No human is perfect and if you want to do something that you don’t want other people to know about – you better make sure not to do it in your front yard.

    It was a stupid thing to look. I don’t condone it.

    I don’t think they thought about someone committing suicide because of their actions. I would have to see what they think. Not what the media gong show talking heads tell me.

    Peeping toms with cameras have been around since cameras were invented. Do you remember ‘Revenge of the Nerds’.

    The other side of facebook is that it helps causes (Haiti for example) and connects people that use it correctly. Do I think that the NAMBLA pages hurt children – yes I do.

    Good people use social media for good things. Bad people use it for bad things. It probably does not change the percentage of both kinds with or without social media.


    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      John: Conflicted because yes, social media tools can be used to do good things — like raise money for Haiti. It can connect us in ways that transcend boundaries of time and space.

      But then it can be used to remove all boundaries, like those of propriety and respect and privacy, such as the case for Clementi.

      Good people is all relative. We all have the potential to be good or evil. The choice is ours. Wei and Ravi choose evil. That they didn’t consider that it might cause Clementi to take is own life only shows the depth of deception in which they participated.

      A new study says this new way of communicating & build community enables us to lie more often: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/social.media/10/06/white.lies.online/index.html

      All that money has only made Zuckerberg more liable for lawsuits. The biggest waste of one’s life may be meeting with lawyers.

      I miss email communication. Most of my box is filled with Twitter and Facebook.

      I’m a social media whore.

  • Diane

    “Any kid capable of writing an essay that grants them entrance into Rutgers knows the difference between a prank and invasion of privacy. And if they don’t? Well Rutgers might want to revisit their entrance requirements.” I LOVED THAT TOUGHT….so true!

    • And another question, did they actually WRITE the essays that helped them gain admission? Everything’s for sale, you know.

  • jaz

    A conscience is not born, it’s made.

    Day in and day out, we are telling our children (through an endless swarm of “reality” shows and advertising) that all that really matters is being rich, famous, or both.

    We celebrate backstabbing and meanness.

    And we reap what we sow.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Jaz: You are right — on all accounts. But for some, they appear to be born without the conscience.

  • I know this social media makes us more insensitive to others. I have had friends say the most insensitive things to me on facebook that I know they would never say to my face. I think some how, it does not seem real. It is kind of a game and people get a rush out of posting things they know will get a rise out of people. There is so much chatter and noise, only the rude, obnoxious, perverse things seem to get any attention so that is where the attention seekers go. It scars me for my children. Two of my girls are not into social media but my youngest is a junkie like her mom. Your post makes me stop and think about what she may be seeing and doing and how this kind of communication may be shaping her.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Stopping and thinking is the point. Not sure I have any answers. It’s a complicated matter, thus, my own admission of duplicity.