I was saddened this week by the story of the US college student who committed suicide after he discovered his roommate had secretly filmed his tryst with another man, and then published it online.
I add the emphasis, because it’s the most disturbing thing about an already tragic situation. Clearly we don’t know everything about the circumstances and there’s almost certainly a lot more going on than is apparent when a closeted teen commits suicide, but any way you look at it, his roommate’s actions were cruel, invasive, bullying and wrong.
There are two things jostling for attention in my head about this:
One: I’m not blaming social media, but I do worry about the habits that a social life (amplified by social media and networks) can fall into. Performing. Feeling like you have to constantly feed (/amuse/entertain/shock) a hungry audience, it’s easy to slither unawares across the line into behaviours and activities which are just wrong – like bullying – or stupid – like revealing too much about yourself online. I think some people – ok, many people – get seduced by the noteriety and enjoy the buzz of microfame, which means their boundaries of privacy and acceptable behaviour get ever so blurry. This can come back to bite them – or others.
Two: how do you support teens (especially) who are being bullied because of sexuality, appearance, intelligence, economics or anything else, especially within the artificial cruel crassness of a school or college dorm?
Speaking of supporting teens who are being bullied because of their sexuality, sex-advice columnist and podcast host Dan Savage recently kicked off an interesting and – I think – worthy initiative called the “It Gets Better Project”.
The project is inspired by the suicide of 15-year-old Indiana teenager Billy Lucas, who hanged himself two weeks ago in his family’s barn after enduring bullying from his classmates.
Savage realised that the one thing he and others who had been through tough times and bullying as teens wanted to say to today’s LGBT teens was: I know it feels bad now, but it gets better.
In an effort to counter the despair and isolation that many young gay people feel, Savage has launched a YouTube channel to provide positive examples of gay adults living their lives and sharing that simple message — it gets better.
“It occurred to me that we can talk to these kids now,” Savage said. “We don’t have to wait for an invitation or permission to reach out to them using social media and YouTube.”
He’s inviting LBGT people to upload videos to a dedicated YouTube channel, describing how they may have been bullied in high school, and how life got better once they moved out into the read world.
Human, moving – and hopefully effective.