Space Invaders

Remember KONY 2012?  Remember creator Jason Russell’s stark-naked freakout?  Well what I’m about to lay down for you has absolutely nothing to do with any of this ish.

Remember Tyler Clementi?  Okay, okay, but orange you glad I didn’t say banana?  Seriously though, jokes aside, if you don’t know who Clementi is, maybe you are familiar with the efforts of the Trevor Project?  Danielle Radcliffe…Lady Gaga…Bueller?  If bells aren’t ringing – besides the obvious fact that you live under a rock, and possibly, might not understand English – I’ll break it down real quickly for you:

Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old Rutgers freshman.  A couple of days before leaving the old Buffalo nest, he told his parents he was gay.  He also did something that I’m sure all of us did upon receiving our housing assignments at NYU; Tyler looked up his roommate, Dharun Ravi, online.  He quipped to friends over IM about Ravi’s ethnic background, and Ravi similarly judged Clementi.  Subsequent to moving in, both boys hardly interacted, and wouldn’t see one another for days at a time.  I don’t know much about where you dormed, but let me just say, it would take some intense sort of uncomfortable pressure, and grand effort to avoid my freshy fish roommate.

Weinstein didn’t give me much a chance anyways.

But back to the dudes – one night, Clementi basically texted Ravi and asked if he could have some alone time in the room.  Some space.  Apparently worried about theft, Ravi left his computer (slash webcam) on and in a skeptical position.  While viewing this stream from another room, Ravi and a companion (Molly Wei) watched Clementi kissing another man, both with their shirts off and pants on.  Ravi blasted off comments about the private content on his Twitter.

In another incident shortly after, Ravi posted information about a “Clementi viewing party”, this time inviting friends to watch with him, along with instructions on how to view it from wherever else anyone wanted to.  Clementi, noting the camera was on, and turned in a rather apprehensive angle, unplugged the power cord.

Tyler wrote extensively about how this bothered him on Yahoo! message boards and the website Just Us Boys.  He even filed a complaint with his residential advisor after reading Ravi’s tweets, realizing Ravi had web-streamed the first incident, and intended on publicizing a second sexual encounter.  Tyler asked to be placed into a new room.

About a day after this, Clementi posted a status update on his Facebook, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”  His body was recovered from the Hudson River a week later.

This is all relevant, because about two days ago, Dharun Ravi, among other things, was found “guilty of multiple counts of  invasion of privacy” by a New Jersey court.  Reporter Megan DeMarco summarizes this as, “Invasion of Privacy, under circumstances that caused Tyler Clementi to be intimidated, and considering the manner in which the offense was committed, Clementi reasonably believed that he was selected to be the target of the offense because of sexual orientation.”

In class, private versus public became a clear thematic principle, but emerged with rather hazy margins.  Boyd and Marwick had us asking, what IS privacy?  Tbh, I was pretty stumped myself.  What the eff is privacy?  I can think about it, and somehow I just know it, but how do you explain it to someone else?  And if the text, “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics” rings true, then “all teens have a sense of privacy, although their definitions of privacy vary widely.”  I feel like this concept asks us to assume that Ravi and Clementi have different interpretations of privacy, since Clementi’s suicide/uncomfortableness was clearly a result of Ravi’s exposing too much on a SNS.   But then according to the law, Ravi crossed the line.  So if everyone has a different perspective on what privacy is, how can someone invade it?  How can this be when Boyd and Marwick say that “a universal notion of privacy remains enigmatic”?  The conclusion is this:  Social norms act as a “regulatory force.”  These standards, called norms,  are  universal.  Majority of people, like Tyler, would not want their sexual interactions displayed/ridiculed online and streamed on the web.  This is where we get the idea that this is WRONG.

In the article, “As Soon As You Get On Bebo You Just Go Mad,” Willett explains that “questions are raised about young people’s understanding of privacy, trust, and credibility.”  Although she doesn’t go into detail, Willett notes that there are “high profile concerns such as harmful contact and content (e.g. cyberbullying).”  Referencing the fact that there are specific actions, in Clementi’s case, web-based bullying, that are seen as out of line means that there is a common understanding among people.  It seems that regardless of privacy being about intimate space, there are universal boundaries that outline what is unjust.

It seems privacy isn’t as ambiguous a thought as we think, but it is being incessantly invaded and paraded on the Internet.

One last feature to finish off this discussion of privacy: a cartoon from The New Yorker highlights the privacy issues we encounter as online social-network users.   How do we control this content release?  Is this essentially possible?  AND before I finally leave you (I know, boo-hoo, don’t be so sad) do you think that Facebook and Google+ releasing personal information you attribute to the site is an invasion of privacy?


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1 Comment

  1. I always end up leaving a response on your blog posts because they totally just bring me in. GOOD JOB! Anyways, besides the fact that I love your writing, I had a couple things I wanted to discuss pertaining this post.

    One being when you said, how can privacy be invaded if everyone has a different perspective on what privacy is? In my opinion, I think sexuality and exposing someone’s sex life on the web is definitely an invasion of privacy, ANYWHERE in the world. It’s just wrong and immoral in so many ways. I think once you expose something about someone that you wouldn’t want them exposing about you, you are crossing the line. I believe there is a universal standard for privacy. Don’t put something up on the web someone is going to have a problem about if the found out its about them. A legal definition of invasion of privacy is “the intrusion into the personal life of another, without just cause, which can give the person whose privacy has been invaded a right to bring a lawsuit for damages against the person or entity that intruded.” In that case, someones personal life is THEIRS. No one else has the right to share any of that information without the other persons consent. But then I think about gossipers. We all gossip to some extent, so are we breaking the law? Can we be sued for telling a friend how another friend had sex with the same gender last night? It all just blows my mind. Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is no one definition of what privacy means. Telling my friend about another friends sexual life might not mean anything to me and keeping that private is not a priority, but it might be to someone else. But even then, it’s still not okay to do what Ravi did to Clementi.


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