Oct 022010
 October 2, 2010  Posted by  Breaches, Online, Youth & Schools

To follow up on my previous blog entry about Tyler Clementi’s suicide, here are two pointers to some thoughtful discussions of the tragedy:

Law professor and privacy scholar and author Dan Solove comments in, The Clementi Suicide and Invasion of Privacy on Concurring Opinions.

Journalist and author Jeff Jarvis follows up on an interview he gave to Katie Couric in The Rutgers tragedy and privacy and technology on Buzz Machine.

How we see this –  as an issue of cyber-bullying, the dangers of the Internet, an issue of intolerance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, the lack of appreciation for privacy by today’s youth, or some combination of the above – will frame what we do going forward. In my field, we say that everything starts with assessment. You can’t come up with the right or effective treatment if you haven’t correctly and fully diagnosed the problem(s). The same appears true here, too.

No matter what the students involved in the privacy invasion say after the fact, we may never know the truth about what they were thinking or feeling when they decided to do what they did. We may never know the whole story of why Tyler Clementi did what he did. But we can agree, perhaps, that one way to prevent at least some future problems is to provide more support for LGBT youth and to teach all youth that they are both entitled to privacy and responsible for respecting others’ privacy. Both of those are formidable challenges in a society where many people outspokenly reject LGBT individuals and try to deprive them of the same privileges others enjoy, where our own government still tries to defend Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, where schools routinely invade the privacy of students, and where parents invade their own children’s privacy without compelling safety reasons.

We can’t protect youth or pretend to teach them anything until we get our own act together.

Before this latest tragedy, and in another context, Ryan Calo had tweeted, “Privacy keeps dying and coming back to life. Is privacy a zombie?” I had answered, “I think it’s more like a phoenix.” Whether the Tyler Clementi tragedy will see a  rebirth of interest in, and commitment to, privacy remains to be seen.

Eventually, the students whose conduct likely contributed to a tragedy will be judged in a court of law.  But it’s time for all of us to take a harder look at our own conduct to see how we may be contributing to the problems, and what we might do to remedy them.

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