With the recent suicide of Tyler Clementi caused by cyber gossip, I have been sickened by the power of cyber bullying and gossip and the carnage it can leave in its path. In the age of technology, the power of our words is exponential. Gossip that used to spread by word of mouth, now is spread by text, email and social media where it can be seen by hundreds if not thousands of people in an instant. The phrase “It went viral” can be great for someone like Susan Boyle, or it can be life ending for someone like Tyler Clementi.
In high school, I was a victim of gossip and rumors of being a lesbian. There was a note left in my locker and that was all it took. Word spread and I was being heckled and teased in the hallways. Looking back now, I feel very grateful that it was nearly 20 years ago before technology was at our fingertips. I can only imagine that the locker note would have been a Facebook message that everyone would have been able to see at school and in my community. That would have been devastating and can’t imagine how I would have recovered.
I didn’t feel safe to talk to anyone about it, especially since it was in the early 90’s. I kept it all in for years. I don’t want to deny that much has changed in the last 20 years with gay rights and acceptance. Yet I also acknowledge that there are thousands of young people and adults who deal with harassment and discrimination everyday. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) youth are three times more likely to commit suicide and 61% don’t feel safe at school because of their orientation. Everyone deserves to feel safe and not alone, no matter your orientation.
Fortunately, there are organizations like the Hetrick-Martin Institute, supporting our young people who are dealing with these issues. However, it is up to each and every one of us to protect our young people–all of our young people–from the destructive power of judgment and gossip.
We often say that kids have it easier these days, but there are definite drawbacks to life in the age of technology. The old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was never really true even back then, but in this era, words are even more hurtful and destructive.
However, the power of technology doesn’t have to be destructive, it can be used in powerful, inspiring, and life affirming ways. A friend of mine, Gabrielle Bernstein, challenged everyone she knew to “Positive Posting” on Facebook / Twitter for 30 days to shift the power of the culture of cyber bullying to cyber celebrating. So I invite you to take on the challenge and post positive messages on your social media sites. Then perhaps one day, tragedies like that of Tyler Clementi will be a thing of the past.