Well hello friend Mister Insightful
Thank you for your comment on my little Youtube clip!
Most people say you're cruel and spiteful,
But you're right, how do I sleep at night? I am a massive prick.
They call you hater well they're just jealous
Your constructive pearls of wisdom give me thrills I can't deny
How will we know if you don't tell us
We could improve our Youtube channels by "fucking off and dying"?
Some might say you are a...
Sexually aggressive, racist, homophobe, misogynistic,
Cowardly, illitterate, waste of human skin,
Sexually aggressive, racist, homophobe, misogynistic,
Cowardly, iliterat, waste of human skin,
But I say: thank you beautiful stranger.
I love the way you don't upload things
You know we'd be too dazzled by your cinematic vision
But you're there on every comment string
Where you teach us,
just like Jesus but while wanking like a gibbon.
I'm really sure that if I met you
You probably wouldn't rape me like you promised that you would
We are like "that"; I really get you
You're right about that laughing kid, he is a total "cnut".
You wished me cancer and misspelled "cancer"
But I know that it's a metaphor. You hope that I will grow,
Just like the tumour you hoped would kill me
Inside the tits on which you said you'd also like a go.
You said that girls shouldn't do funny
But you'd fuck me double hard and let your mates go after you.
Oh what a line you lovely honey.
Are you on e-harmony? Oo! I'll join the queue!
Some might say you're a...
sexually aggressive, racist, homophobe, misogynistic,
cowardly, illitterate, waste of human skin,
sexually aggressive, racist, homophobe, misogynistic,
cowardly, iliterate, waste of human skin.
But if it wasn't for you my darling,
I would never have written this tune.
Some might say that You're So Vain,
But this song is all about you!
MIAMI — For
the Polk County sheriff’s office, which has been investigating the cyberbullying
suicide of a 12-year-old Florida girl, the Facebook comment was impossible to
In Internet shorthand it began “Yes, ik” — I know — “I bullied Rebecca nd she
killed herself.” The writer concluded that she didn’t care, using an obscenity
to make the point and a heart as a perverse flourish. Five weeks ago, Rebecca
Ann Sedwick, a seventh grader in Lakeland in central Florida, jumped to her
death from an abandoned cement factory silo after enduring a year, on and off,
of face-to-face and online bullying.
The Facebook post, Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said, was so offensive that
he decided to move forward with the arrest immediately rather than continue to
gather evidence. With a probable cause affidavit in hand, he sent his deputies
Monday night to arrest two girls, calling them the “primary harassers.” The
first, a 14-year-old, is the one who posted the comment Saturday, he said. The
second is her friend, and Rebecca’s former best friend, a 12-year-old.
Both were charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony and will be
processed through the juvenile court system. Neither had an arrest record. The
older girl was taken into custody in the juvenile wing of the Polk County Jail.
The younger girl, who the police said expressed remorse, was released to her
parents under house arrest.
Originally, Sheriff Judd said he had hoped to wait until he received data from
two far-flung cellphone application companies, Kik Messenger and ask.fm, before
“We learned this over the weekend, and we decided that, look, we can’t leave her
out there,” Sheriff Judd said, referring to the older girl. “Who else is she
going to torment? Who else is she going to harass? Who is the next person she
verbally abuses and attacks?”
He said the older girl told the police that her account had been hacked, and
that she had not posted the comment.
“She forced this arrest today,” Sheriff Judd said.
Rebecca was bullied from December 2012 to February 2013, according to the
probable cause affidavit. But her mother, Tricia Norman, has said the bullying
began long before then and continued until Rebecca killed herself.
The older of the two girls acknowledged to the police that she had bullied
Rebecca. She said she had sent Rebecca a Facebook message saying that “nobody”
liked her, the affidavit said. The girl also texted Rebecca that she wanted to
“fight” her, the police said. But the bullying did not end there; Rebecca was
told to “kill herself” and “drink bleach and die” among other things, the police
The bullying contributed to Rebecca’s suicide, the sheriff said.
Brimming with outrage and incredulity, the sheriff said in a news conference on
Tuesday that he was stunned by the older girl’s Saturday Facebook posting. But
he reserved his harshest words for the girl’s parents for failing to monitor her
behavior, after she had been questioned by the police, and for allowing her to
keep her cellphone.
“I’m aggravated that the parents are not doing what parents should do: after she
is questioned and involved in this, why does she even have a device?” Sheriff
Judd said. “Parents, who instead of taking that device and smashing it into a
thousand pieces in front of that child, say her account was hacked.”
The police said the dispute with Rebecca began over a boy. The older girl was
upset that Rebecca had once dated her boyfriend, they said.
“She began to harass and ultimately torment Rebecca,” said the sheriff,
describing the 14-year-old as a girl with a long history of bullying behavior.
The police said the older girl began to turn Rebecca’s friends against her,
including her former best friend, the 12-year-old who was charged. She told
anyone who tried to befriend Rebecca that they also would be bullied, the
The bullying leapt into the virtual world, Sheriff Judd said, and Rebecca began
receiving sordid messages instructing her to “go kill yourself.” The police said
Rebecca’s mother was reluctant to take her cellphone away because she did not
want to alienate her daughter and wanted her to be able to communicate with her
friends. Ms. Norman tried, she has said, to monitor Rebecca’s cellphone
In December, the bullying grew so intense that Rebecca began cutting herself and
was sent to a hospital by her mother to receive psychiatric care. Ultimately,
her mother pulled her out of Crystal Lake Middle School. She home schooled her
for a while and then enrolled her in a new school in August.
But the bullying did not stop.
“As a child, I can remember sticks and stones can break your bones but words
will never hurt you,” the sheriff said. “Today, words stick because they are
printed and they are there forever.”
Some of the messages were sent using a variety of social media smartphone
messaging and photo-sharing applications, including ask.fm and Kik Messenger,
that parents have a difficult time keeping track of.
“Watch what your children do online,” Sheriff Judd said. “Pay attention. Quit
being their best friend and be their best parent. That’s important.”
MIAMI — The clues were buried in her bedroom. Before leaving
for school on Monday morning, Rebecca Ann Sedwick had hidden her schoolbooks
under a pile of clothes and left her cellphone behind, a rare lapse for a
Inside her phone’s virtual world, she had changed her user name on Kik
Messenger, a cellphone application, to “That Dead Girl” and delivered a message
to two friends, saying goodbye forever. Then she climbed a platform at an
abandoned cement plant near her home in the Central Florida city of Lakeland and
leaped to the ground, the Polk County sheriff said.
In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of
children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after
being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection
of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new
questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web
sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s
For more than a year, Rebecca, pretty and smart, was cyberbullied by a coterie
of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself, her mother said. The
Polk County sheriff’s office is investigating the role of cyberbullying in the
suicide and considering filing charges against the middle-school students who
apparently barraged Rebecca with hostile text messages. Florida passed a law
this year making it easier to bring felony charges in online bullying cases.
Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media,” Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk
County said at a news conference this week.
Along with her grief, Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, faces the frustration of
wondering what else she could have done. She complained to school officials for
several months about the bullying, and when little changed, she pulled Rebecca
out of school. She closed down her daughter’s Facebook page and took her
cellphone away. She changed her number. Rebecca was so distraught in December
that she began to cut herself, so her mother had her hospitalized and got her
counseling. As best she could, Ms. Norman said, she kept tabs on Rebecca’s
social media footprint.
It all seemed to be working, she said. Rebecca appeared content at her new
school as a seventh grader. She was gearing up to audition for chorus and was
considering slipping into her cheerleading uniform once again. But unknown to
her mother, Rebecca had recently signed on to new applications — ask.fm, and Kik
and Voxer — which kick-started the messaging and bullying once again.
“I had never even heard of them; I did go through her phone but didn’t even
know,” said Ms. Norman, 42, who works in customer service. “I had no reason to
even think that anything was going on. She was laughing and joking.”
Sheriff Judd said Rebecca had been using these messaging applications to send
and receive texts and photographs. His office showed Ms. Norman the messages and
photos, including one of Rebecca with razor blades on her arms and cuts on her
body. The texts were full of hate, her mother said: “Why are you still alive?”
One said, “Can u die please?” To which Rebecca responded, with a flash of
resilience, “Nope but I can live.” Her family said the bullying began with a
dispute over a boy Rebecca dated for a while. But Rebecca had stopped seeing
him, they said.
Rebecca was not nearly as resilient as she was letting on. Not long before her
death, she had clicked on questions online that explored suicide. “How many
Advil do you have to take to die?”
In hindsight, Ms. Norman wonders whether Rebecca kept her distress from her
family because she feared her mother might take away her cellphone again.
“Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.
It is impossible to be certain what role the online abuse may have played in her
death. But cyberbullying experts said cellphone messaging applications are
proliferating so quickly that it is increasingly difficult for parents to keep
pace with their children’s complex digital lives.
“It’s a whole new culture, and the thing is that as adults, we don’t know
anything about it because it’s changing every single day,” said Denise Marzullo,
the chief executive of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida in
Jacksonville, who works with the schools there on bullying issues.
No sooner has a parent deciphered Facebook or Twitter or Instagram than his or
her children have migrated to the latest frontier. “It’s all of these small ones
where all this is happening,” Ms. Marzullo said.
In Britain, a number of suicides by young people have been linked to ask.fm, and
online petitions have been started there and here to make the site more
responsive to bullying. The company ultimately responded this year by
introducing an easy-to-see button to report bullying and saying it would hire
“You hear about this all the time,” Ms. Norman said of cyberbullying. “I never,
ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”
Questions have also been raised about whether Rebecca’s old school, Crystal Lake
Middle School, did enough last year to help stop the bullying; some of it,
including pushing and hitting, took place on school grounds. The same students
also appear to be involved in sending out the hate-filled online messages away
from school, something schools can also address.
Nancy Woolcock, the assistant superintendent in charge of antibullying programs
for Polk County Schools, said the school received one bullying complaint from
Rebecca and her mother in December about traditional bullying, not
cyberbullying. After law enforcement investigated, Rebecca’s class schedule was
changed. Ms. Woolcock said the school also has an extensive antibullying
campaign and takes reports seriously.
But Ms. Norman said the school should have done more. Officials told her that
Rebecca would receive an escort as she switched classes, but that did not
happen, she said.
Rebecca never boarded her school bus on Monday morning. She made her way to the
abandoned Cemex plant about 10 minutes away from her modest mobile home; the
plant was a place she had used as a getaway a few times when she wanted to
vanish. Somehow, she got past the high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire,
which is now a memorial, with teddy bears, candles and balloons. She climbed a
tower and then jumped.
“Don’t ignore your kids,” Ms. Norman said, “even if they seem fine.”
When Miranda Pakozdi entered the Cross Assault video game
tournament this year, she knew she had a slim chance of winning the $25,000
prize. But she was ready to compete, and promised fans watching online that she
would train just as hard as, if not harder than, anyone else.
Over six days of competition, though, her team’s coach, Aris Bakhtanians,
interrogated her on camera about her bra size, said “take off your shirt” and
focused the team’s webcam on her chest, feet and legs. He leaned in over her
shoulder and smelled her.
Ms. Pakozdi, 25, an experienced gamer, has said she always expects a certain
amount of trash talk. But as the only woman on the team, this was too much,
especially from her coach, she said. It was after she overheard Mr. Bakhtanians
defending sexual harassment as part of “the fighting game community” that she
forfeited the game.
Sexism, racism, homophobia and general name-calling are longstanding facts of
life in certain corners of online video games. But the Cross Assault episode was
the first of a series this year that have exposed the severity of the harassment
that many women experience in virtual gaming communities.
And a backlash — on Twitter, in videos, on blogs and even in an online comic
strip — has moved the issue beyond endless debate among gaming insiders to more
public calls for change.
Executives in the $25 billion-a-year industry are taking note. One game
designer’s online call for civility prompted a meeting with Microsoft executives
about how to better police Xbox Live. In February, shortly after the Cross
Assault tournament, LevelUp, an Internet broadcaster of gaming events, barred
two commentators who made light of sexual harassment on camera and issued a
formal apology, including statements from the commentators.
Even so, Tom Cannon, co-founder of the largest fighting game tournament, EVO,
pulled his company’s sponsorship of the weekly LevelUp series, saying that “we
cannot continue to let ignorant, hateful speech slide.”
“The nasty undercurrent in the scene isn’t a joke or a meme,” he said. “It’s
something we need to fix.”
Mr. Bakhtanians, whose actions during the Cross Assault tournament were captured
on video, later issued a statement in which he apologized if he had offended
anyone. He also blamed “my own inability in the heat of the moment to defend
myself and the community I have loved for over 15 years.”
But the issues raised by the Cross Assault episode gained more attention with
Anita Sarkeesian’s campaign in May to raise $6,000 on Kickstarter to document
how women are portrayed in video games. Her YouTube and Facebook pages were
instantly flooded with hate-filled comments. People tried to hack her online
accounts. She received violent personal threats.
Ms. Sarkeesian responded by documenting the harassment, posting online the
doctored, pornographic images of herself that her detractors had created.
Supporters of her efforts, aghast, donated more than $150,000, further angering
her critics. A man from Ontario created an Internet game where players could
“punch” her, layering bruises and cuts on her image until the screen turns red.
“The gaming industry is actually in the process of changing,” Ms. Sarkeesian
said. “That’s a really positive thing, but I think there is a small group of
male gamers who feel like gaming belongs to them, and are really terrified of
that change happening.”
When Sam Killermann, a gamer in Austin, Tex., saw the reaction to Ms.
Sarkeesian’s project, something “broke through,” he said. A few weeks ago, he
began a campaign for “Gamers Against Bigotry,” asking people to sign a pledge
supporting more positive behavior. The site received 1,500 pledges before it was
hacked, erasing its list of names.
Like Ms. Sarkeesian, many women gamers are documenting their experiences on
blogs like “Fat, Ugly or Slutty” (whose name comes from the typical insults
women receive while playing against others online). It cheekily catalogs the
slurs, threats and come-ons women receive while playing games like Resident Evil
or Gears of War 3.
The blog publishes screenshots and voice recordings that serve as a kind of
universal citation in each new controversy, called upon to settle debates or
explode myths. For instance, many of the site’s recordings feature deep voices
captured from the chat features of online games, debunking the widely held
belief that bad behavior begins and ends with 13-year-old boys.
Jessica Hammer, a longtime player of video games and a researcher at Columbia
University, said the percentage of women playing such games online ranges from
12 percent to close to half, depending on the game type. Industry statistics
from the Entertainment Software Association say 47 percent of game players are
women, but that number is frequently viewed as so all-encompassing as to be
meaningless, bundling Solitaire alongside Diablo III.
Women report greater levels of harassment in more competitive games involving
strangers. Some abandon anonymous play for safer communities or “clans” where
good behavior is the norm.
In other game communities, however, sexual threats, taunts and come-ons are
common, as is criticism that women’s presence is “distracting” or that they are
simply trying to seek attention. Some have been offered money or virtual “gold”
for online sex. Some have been stalked online and in person.
Stephen Toulouse, who was the head of enforcement for Xbox Live from 2007 until
February, policed the most egregious behavior on the network, owned by
Microsoft. And women were the most frequent target of harassment, he said. In
that role, Mr. Toulouse experienced the wrath of angry gamers firsthand, who
figured out where he lived, then called the police with false reports about
trouble at his house (more than once, SWAT teams were sent).
If players were reported for bad behavior, they could be disciplined by being
muted on voice chat or barred temporarily. At least once a day, Mr. Toulouse
said, the company blocked a specific console’s serial number from ever accessing
the network again.
But policing the two or three million players who are active on Xbox Live at any
given time is hard. Just as on the broader Internet, there are people who
delight in piquing anger or frustration in others, or “trolling.” For trolls,
offensive language — sexist, racist, homophobic comments — are interchangeable
weapons that vary with the target.
“They treat the Internet like a vast game,” where offending others scores
points, Mr. Toulouse said. But the standard advice to ignore the taunts (“don’t
feed the trolls”) is now, in the wake of Ms. Sarkeesian’s treatment, being
accompanied by discussions about “how to kill a troll.” And many people are
calling for the gaming industry to do more.
James Portnow, a game designer who has worked on titles including Call of Duty
and Farmville, wrote an episode about harassment for his animated Web series
“Extra Credits.” In it, the narrator says: “Right now, it’s like we gave the
school bully access to the intercom system and told him that everyone would hear
whatever he had to say. It’s time we take away that megaphone.”
At the end of the video, viewers were encouraged to e-mail Microsoft’s Xbox
Live’s team, asking for changes to communication tools and improvements to
After hearing from gamers, Microsoft called Mr. Portnow and invited him to
headquarters. He met with a team of executives, including a vice president, for
four hours, and they discussed how Microsoft was developing better algorithms
for things like automatically muting repeat offenders. Microsoft confirmed it
was working toward improvements to its community tools.
“For the longest time, people have seen games as a children’s pastime, and we as
an industry have stood behind this idea,” said Mr. Portnow, who will be speaking
on a gaming convention panel later this month called “Ending Harassment in
“But that’s not true any longer,” he added. “We are a real mass medium, and we
have a real effect on the culture. We have to take a step beyond this idea that
nothing we could possibly do could be negative, or hurt people.”
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A judge here sentenced Dharun Ravi to 30
days in jail on Monday for using a webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with
a man, a punishment that angered prosecutors and did little to quiet the debate
over using laws against hate crimes to fight antigay bias.
His roommate, Tyler Clementi, killed himself in September 2010, two days after
discovering that Mr. Ravi had spied on him in their room at Rutgers University,
galvanizing national concern about suicide among gay teenagers.
Mr. Ravi had faced up to 10 years in prison after a jury convicted him of all 15
counts against him, which included bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and
tampering with a witness and evidence.
Prosecutors vowed to appeal, and the sentence surprised even many who had called
for leniency, as it came after an extended scolding by Judge Glenn Berman in
Superior Court in Middlesex County.
“I heard this jury say guilty 288 times — 24 questions, 12 jurors, that’s the
multiplication,” the judge told Mr. Ravi, recalling the questionnaire jurors
filled out in arriving at the verdict. “And I haven’t heard you apologize once.”
“I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi,” the judge told a courtroom packed on
one side with supporters of Mr. Ravi and on the other with those of the Clementi
family. “I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity.”
Prosecutors and Mr. Clementi’s family, who had addressed reporters with relief
bordering on buoyancy following the verdict two months ago, canceled a news
conference planned for after the sentencing. Mr. Ravi’s family collapsed into an
embrace with his lawyers. Just moments earlier, his mother, Sabitha Ravi, had
sobbed while imploring the judge to spare her son prison time.
“The media misconstrued the facts to the public and misconceptions were formed,”
she said, telling how she watched helplessly as her son sank into despair after
he was charged and dropped out of Rutgers, barely eating or leaving the house.
“All I could do was hug him and cry.”
At her tears, Mr. Ravi himself broke down crying, the first time since the
beginning of the trial that he had publicly shown more than a glimpse of
Mr. Ravi, 20, was not charged with causing Mr. Clementi’s death, but the suicide
hung heavily over the trial, and over the sentencing on Monday. Mr. Clementi’s
mother, father and brother spoke before the judge delivered his decision,
breaking down occasionally as they recalled his accomplishment and his promise,
and the pain of losing him and of reliving the agony of his final days as they
endured three weeks of courtroom testimony.
“I cannot imagine the level of rejection, isolation and disdain he must have
felt from his peers,” Tyler’s brother James Clementi said. “Dharun never
bothered to care about the harm he was doing to my brother’s heart and mind. My
family has never heard an apology, an acknowledgment of any wrongdoing.”
His mother, Jane Clementi, also criticized students who knew about the spying
from Mr. Ravi’s Twitter feeds. “How could they all go along with such meanness?”
she said. “Why didn’t any one of them speak up and try to stop it?”
Judge Berman said he wanted to impose a sentence that was “constructive” and
would provide a measure of closure — “though I don’t know how the Clementis will
ever get closure,” he said. He said he imposed the jail time for witness and
evidence tampering and for lying to the police. But for the bias intimidation
convictions, he gave Mr. Ravi three years’ probation.
The judge did not explicitly say why he deviated so far from the maximum
sentence. But he said he believed the State Legislature had intended prison time
to be attached to crimes of violence, and there had been none.
Mr. Ravi’s lead lawyer, Steven Altman, had earlier read from a presentencing
memo by a corrections officer who had interviewed Mr. Ravi and recommended
Mr. Ravi, who came to this country from India as a child, remains a felon and
could face deportation. But the judge said he would recommend against that.
Gillian M. Christensen, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
said the agency was “in the process of reviewing documents relating to the
conviction and sentencing” of Mr. Ravi, but would not comment further.
Some immigration lawyers pointed on Monday to a clause declaring that a legal
resident, or green card holder, like Mr. Ravi can be deported if convicted of
two or more crimes involving “moral turpitude,” as long as neither crime arose
out of a single scheme.
Thomas E. Moseley, an immigration lawyer based in Newark, said that if the
immigration authorities “wanted to be really aggressive,” they might argue that
the tampering crime was separate from the bias crime.
Judge Berman also sentenced Mr. Ravi to 300 hours of community service,
counseling about cyberbullying and what he called “alternate lifestyles,” and
approximately $11,000 in fees. Most of the money is to be used to help victims
of bias crimes.
Mr. Clementi, an 18-year-old who had recently come out to his parents, and Mr.
Ravi were three weeks into their freshman year at Rutgers when Mr. Clementi
asked if he could have the room for the evening so he could be alone with a man,
whom he had met on a Web site for gay men.
In court, prosecutors presented a long trail of electronic evidence to show how
Mr. Ravi had set up a webcam to spy on the men, then gone into a friend’s room
and watched. He caught only a glimpse of Mr. Clementi and his visitor in an
embrace, then sent out Twitter messages announcing that he had seen his roommate
“making out with a dude.” He set up the camera again two days later and urged
others to watch. But by then, Mr. Clementi had seen the Twitter posts and turned
off the webcam.
Mr. Clementi, an accomplished violinist from Ridgewood, N.J., checked Mr. Ravi’s
Twitter feed 38 times and filed a request for a room change — and then jumped to
his death from the George Washington Bridge. In court on Monday, his mother said
she feared Mr. Ravi’s Twitter posts were the last thing her son saw before he
Many gay rights advocates had hailed the jury’s verdict as a bold strike against
bias, a message that bullying of gay men and lesbians should not be dismissed as
a mere prank.
But other prominent gay commentators argued that while what Mr. Ravi did was
repugnant, it was not the kind of sustained or aggressive behavior that
The sentence similarly divided them.
Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey gay rights
group that pushed for the state to pass its strict antibullying statutes after
Mr. Clementi’s death, said the sentence was lighter than what many shoplifters
“We have opposed throwing the book at Dharun Ravi,” Mr. Goldstein said in a
statement. “But we have similarly rejected the other extreme, that Ravi should
have gotten no jail time at all, and today’s sentencing is closer to that
extreme than the other.”
William Dobbs, who had attended rallies supporting Mr. Ravi, said the judge was
reflecting the discomfort many gay rights campaigners expressed at the use of
hate crimes to prosecute Mr. Ravi.
“The judge had to control a backlash to an out-of-control prosecution,” he said.
“The number of charges, the severity and the potential penalties, even the
amount of resources devoted to this trial, was out of all proportion to the
Bruce J. Kaplan, the Middlesex County prosecutor, issued a statement after the
sentencing, saying that while his office had not requested the maximum prison
term, “it was expected that his conviction on multiple offenses of invading the
privacy of two victims on two separate occasions, four counts of bias
intimidation against Tyler Clementi, and the cover-up of those crimes would
warrant more than a 30-day jail term.”
Still, even some jurors continued to struggle over the appropriate sentence.
One, Susan Matiejunas, said she had watched the proceedings on television all
morning and was surprised.
“Thirty days is a slap on the wrist,” she said. “Six months to a year would have
been more suitable, since we convicted him on so many counts.”
Ms. Matiejunas telephoned later to say she had reconsidered.
“The kid has spent two years in purgatory just waiting for all of this to end,”
she said. “I think probably 30 days really is quite enough on top of all that.”
The New York Times
By A. G. SULZBERGER
GROVE, Mo. — In the small towns nestled throughout the Ozarks, people like to
say that everybody knows everybody’s business — and if they do not, they feel
free to offer an educated guess.
One of the established places here for trading the gossip of the day is Dee’s
Place, a country diner where a dozen longtime residents gather each morning
around a table permanently reserved with a members-only sign for the “Old Farts
Club,” as they call themselves, to talk about weather, politics and, of course,
But of late, more people in this hardscrabble town of 5,000 have shifted from
sharing the latest news and rumors over eggs and coffee to the Mountain Grove
Forum on a social media Web site called Topix, where they write and read
startlingly negative posts, all cloaked in anonymity, about one another.
And in Dee’s Place, people are not happy. A waitress, Pheobe Best, said that the
site had provoked fights and caused divorces. The diner’s owner, Jim Deverell,
called Topix a “cesspool of character assassination.” And hearing the
conversation, Shane James, the cook, wandered out of the kitchen tense with
His wife, Jennifer, had been the target in a post titled “freak,” he said, which
described the mother of two as, among other things, “a methed-out, doped-out
whore with AIDS.” Not a word was true, Mr. and Ms. James said, but the
consequences were real enough.
Friends and relatives stopped speaking to them. Trips to the grocery store
brought a crushing barrage of knowing glances. She wept constantly and even
considered suicide. Now, the couple has resolved to move.
“I’ll never come back to this town again,” Ms. James said in an interview at the
diner. “I just want to get the hell away from here.”
In rural America, where an older, poorer and more remote population has lagged
the rest of the country in embracing the Internet, the growing use of social
media is raising familiar concerns about bullying and privacy. But in small
towns there are complications.
The same Web sites created as places for candid talk about local news and
politics are also hubs of unsubstantiated gossip, stirring widespread resentment
in communities where ties run deep, memories run long and anonymity is something
of a novel concept.
A generation ago, even after technology had advanced, many rural residents clung
to the party line telephone systems that allowed neighbors to listen in on one
another’s conversations. Now they are gravitating toward open community forums
online, said Christian Sandvig, an associate professor at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Something about rural culture seems to make people want to have conversations
in public,” said Mr. Sandvig, who has studied the use of social media sites in
Topix, a site lightly trafficked in cities, enjoys a dedicated and growing
following across the Ozarks, Appalachia and much of the rural South,
establishing an unexpected niche in communities of a few hundred or few thousand
people — particularly in what Chris Tolles, Topix’s chief executive, calls “the
feud states.” One of the most heavily trafficked forums, he noted, is Pikeville,
Ky., once the staging ground for the Hatfield and McCoy rivalry.
“We’re running the Gawker for every little town in America,” Mr. Tolles said.
Whereas online negativity seems to dissipate naturally in a large city, it often
grates like steel wool in a small town where insults are not easily forgotten.
The forums have provoked censure by local governments, a number of lawsuits and,
in one case, criticism by relatives after a woman in Austin, Ind., killed
herself and her three children this year. Hours earlier she wrote on the Web
site where her divorce had been a topic of conversation, “Now it’s time to take
the pain away.”
In Hyden, Ky. (population 365), the local forum had 107 visitors at the same
time one afternoon this month. They encountered posts about the school system, a
new restaurant and local arrests, as well as the news articles and political
questions posted by Topix.
But more typical were the unsubstantiated posts that identified by name an
employee at a dentist’s office as a home wrecker with herpes, accused a gas
station attendant of being a drug dealer, and said a 13-year-old girl was
“preggo by her mommy’s man.” Many allegations were followed with promises of
retribution to whoever started the post.
“If names had been put on and tied to what has been said, there would have been
one killing after another,” said Lonnie Hendrix, Hyden’s mayor.
Topix, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is owned in part by several major newspaper
companies — Gannett, Tribune and McClatchy — but has independent editorial
control. It was initially envisioned as a hyperlocal news aggregator with
separate pages for every community in the country. But most of its growth was in
small cities and towns, and local commenters wanted to shift the conversation to
more traditional gossip.
Mr. Tolles acknowledged the biggest problem at the site is “keeping the
conversation on the rails.” But he defended it on free-speech grounds. He said
the comments are funny to read, make private gossip public, provide a platform
for “people who have negative things to say” and are better for business.
At one point, he said, the company tried to remove all negative posts, but it
stopped after discovering that commenters had stopped visiting the site. “This
is small-town America,” he said. “The voices these guys are hearing are of their
friends and neighbors.”
Mr. Tolles also said the site played a journalistic role, including providing a
place for whistle-blowing and candid discussion of local politics.
He noted that the Mountain Grove Forum, which had 3,700 visitors on a single day
this month, had 1,200 posts containing the word “corruption,” though it was
unclear how many of them were true. One resident used the site to rail against
local officials, helping build support for a petition-driven state audit of town
Topix said it received about 125,000 posts on any given day in forums for about
5,000 cities and towns. Unlike sites like Facebook, which requires users to give
their real name, Topix users can pick different names for each post and are
identified only by geography. About 9 percent are automatically screened out by
software, based on offensive content like racial slurs; another 3 percent —
mostly threats and “obvious libel,” Mr. Tolles said — are removed after people
After a challenge from more than 30 state attorneys general, Topix stopped
charging for the expedited removal of offensive comments — which Jack Conway,
the attorney general for Kentucky, said “smacked of having to pay a fee to get
your good name back.”
Despite the screening efforts, the site is full of posts that seem to cross
lines. Topix, as an Internet forum, is immune from libel suits under federal
law, but those who post could be sued, if they are found.
The company receives about one subpoena a day for the computer addresses of
anonymous commenters as part of law enforcement investigations or civil suits,
some of which have resulted in cash verdicts or settlements.
But at Dee’s Place, Jennifer James said she did not have enough money to pursue
a lawsuit. And even if she did, she said, it would not help.
“In a small town,” Ms. James said, “rumors stay forever.”
It started with a Twitter message on Sept. 19: “Roommate asked for the room
till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him
making out with a dude. Yay.”
That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the
message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate
encounter live on the Internet.
And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast —
Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violinist — jumped
from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.
The Sept. 22 death, details of which the authorities disclosed on Wednesday, was
the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful
material. The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year,
campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention
to the use and abuse of new technology.
Those who knew Mr. Clementi — on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway, N.J., at his
North Jersey high school and in a community orchestra — were anguished by the
circumstances surrounding his death, describing him as an intensely devoted
musician who was sweet and shy.
“It’s really awful, especially in New York and in the 21st century,” said Arkady
Leytush, artistic director of the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, where Mr.
Clementi played since his freshman year in high school. “It’s so painful. He was
very friendly and had very good potential.”
The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office said Mr. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun
Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another classmate, Molly Wei, 18, of
Princeton Junction, N.J., had each been charged with two counts of invasion of
privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image” of Mr.
Clementi. The most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.
Mr. Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for
trying a similar live feed on the Internet on Sept. 21, the day before the
suicide. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, James O’Neill, said the
investigation was continuing, but he declined to “speculate on additional
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said
Wednesday that he considered the death a hate crime. “We are sickened that
anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the
surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport,” he
said in a statement.
At the end of the inaugural event for the university’s “Project Civility”
campaign on Wednesday, nearly 100 demonstrators gathered outside the student
center, where the president spoke. They chanted, “Civility without safety — over
our queer bodies!”
It is unclear what Mr. Clementi’s sexual orientation was; classmates say he
mostly kept to himself. Danielle Birnbohm, a freshman who lived across the hall
from him in Davidson Hall, said that when a counselor asked how many students
had known Mr. Clementi, only 3 students out of 50 raised their hands.
But Mr. Clementi displayed a favorite quotation on his Facebook page, from the
song “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”: “What do you get when you kiss a guy? You
get enough germs to catch pneumonia.”
And his roommate’s Twitter message makes plain that Mr. Ravi believed that Mr.
Clementi was gay.
A later message from Mr. Ravi appeared to make reference to the second attempt
to broadcast Mr. Clementi. “Anyone with iChat,” he wrote on Sept. 21, “I dare
you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it’s happening
Ms. Birnbohm said Mr. Ravi had said the initial broadcast was an accident — that
he viewed the encounter after dialing his own computer from another room in the
dorm. It was not immediately known how or when Mr. Clementi learned what his
roommate had done. But Ms. Birnbohm said the episode quickly became the subject
of gossip in the dormitory.
Mr. Clementi’s family issued a statement on Wednesday confirming the suicide and
pledging cooperation with the criminal investigation. “Tyler was a fine young
man, and a distinguished musician,” the statement read. “The family is
heartbroken beyond words.”
The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Mr. Clementi posted a note on his
Facebook page the day of his death: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Friends
and strangers have turned the page into a memorial.
Witnesses told the police they saw a man jump off the bridge just before 9 p.m.
on Sept. 22, said Paul J. Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief
spokesman. Officers discovered a wallet there with Mr. Clementi’s
identification, Mr. Browne said.
The police said Wednesday night that they had found the body of a young man in
the Hudson north of the bridge and were trying to identify it.
Officials at Ridgewood High School, where Mr. Clementi graduated in June, last
week alerted parents of current students that his family had reported him
missing and encouraged students to take advantage of counseling at the school.
The timing of the news was almost uncanny, coinciding with the start of “Project
Civility” at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Long in the planning,
the campaign will involve panel discussions, lectures, workshops and other
events to raise awareness about the importance of respect, compassion and
courtesy in everyday interactions.
Events scheduled for this fall include a workshop for students and
administrators on residential life on campus and a panel discussion titled
“Uncivil Gadgets? Changing Technologies and Civil Behavior.”
Rutgers officials would not say whether the two suspects had been suspended. But
in a statement late Wednesday, the university’s president, Richard L. McCormick,
said, “If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university’s
standards of decency and humanity.” At the kickoff event for the civility
campaign, Mr. McCormick made an oblique reference to the case, saying, “It is
more clear than ever that we need strongly to reassert our call for civility and
responsibility for each other.”
Mr. Ravi was freed on $25,000 bail, and Ms. Wei was released on her own
recognizance. The lawyer for Mr. Ravi, Steven D. Altman, declined to comment on
the accusations. A phone message left at the offices of Ms. Wei’s lawyer was not
Some students on the Busch campus in Piscataway seemed dazed by the turn of
events, remembering their last glimpse of Mr. Clementi. Thomas Jung, 19, shared
a music stand with Mr. Clementi in the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra.
On Wednesday afternoon, hours before Mr. Clementi’s death, the two rehearsed
works by Berlioz and Beethoven. “He loved music,” Mr. Jung said. “He was very
dedicated. I couldn’t tell if anything was wrong.”
Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Barbara Gray,
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
— A federal jury here issued what legal experts said was the country’s first
cyberbullying verdict Wednesday, convicting a Missouri woman of three
misdemeanor charges of computer fraud for her involvement in creating a phony
account on MySpace to trick a teenager, who later committed suicide.
The jury deadlocked on a fourth count of conspiracy against the woman, Lori
Drew, 49, and the judge, George H. Wu of Federal District Court, declared a
mistrial on that charge.
Although it was unclear how severely Ms. Drew would be punished — the jury
reduced the charges to misdemeanors from felonies, and no sentencing date was
set — the conviction was highly significant, computer fraud experts said,
because it was the first time that a federal statute designed to combat computer
crimes was used to prosecute what were essentially abuses of a user agreement on
a social networking site.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Ms. Drew could face up to three years in
prison and $300,000 in fines, though she has no previous criminal record. Her
lawyer has asked for a new trial.
In a highly unusual move, Thomas P. O’Brien, the United States attorney in Los
Angeles, prosecuted the case himself with two subordinates after law enforcement
officials in Missouri determined Ms. Drew had broken no local laws.
Mr. O’Brien, who asserted jurisdiction on the ground that MySpace is based in
Los Angeles, where its servers are housed, said the verdict sent an
“overwhelming message” to users of the Internet.
“If you are going to attempt to annoy or go after a little girl and you’re going
to use the Internet to do so,” he said, “this office and others across the
country will hold you responsible.”
During the five-day trial, prosecutors portrayed Ms. Drew as working in concert
with her daughter, Sarah, who was then 13, and Ashley Grills, a family friend
and employee of Ms. Drew’s magazine coupon business in Dardenne Prairie, Mo.
Testimony showed that they created a teenage boy, “Josh Evans,” as an identity
on MySpace to communicate with Sarah’s nemesis, Megan Meier, who was 13 and had
a history of depression and suicidal impulses.
After weeks of online courtship with “Josh,” Megan was distressed one afternoon
in October 2006, according to testimony at the trial, when she received an
e-mail message from him that said, “The world would be a better place without
Ms. Grills, who is now 20, testified under an immunity agreement that shortly
after that message was sent, Megan wrote back, “You’re the kind of boy a girl
would kill herself over.” Megan hanged herself that same afternoon in her
Although the jury appeared to reject the government’s contention that Ms. Drew
had intended to harm Megan — a notion underlying the felony charges — the
convictions signaled the 12 members’ belief that she had nonetheless violated
federal laws that prohibit gaining access to a computer without authorization.
Specifically, the jury found Ms. Drew guilty of accessing a computer without
authorization on three occasions, a reference to the fraudulent postings on
MySpace in the name of Josh Evans.
Legal and computer fraud experts said the application of the federal Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act, passed in 1986 and amended several times, appeared to be
expanding with technology and the growth of social networking on the Internet.
More typically, prosecutions under the act have involved people who hack into
“Keep in mind that social networking sites like MySpace did not exist until
recently,” said Nick Akerman, a New York lawyer who has written and lectured
extensively on the act. “This case will be simply another important step in the
expanded use of this statute to protect the public from computer crime.”
Other computer fraud experts said they found the verdict chilling.
“As a result of the prosecutor’s highly aggressive, if not unlawful, legal
theory,” said Matthew L. Levine, a former federal prosecutor who is a defense
lawyer in New York, “it is now a crime to ‘obtain information’ from a Web site
in violation of its terms of service. This cannot be what Congress meant when it
enacted the law, but now you have it.”
Ms. Drew, who showed little emotion during the trial, sat stone-faced as the
clerk read the jury’s verdict and left the courtroom quickly, her face red and
twisted with rage.
Her lawyer, H. Dean Steward, said outside the courthouse that he believed the
trial was grandstanding by Mr. O’Brien in an effort to keep his job, with the
coming change in the White House.
“I don’t have any satisfaction at all,” Mr. Steward said of the verdict.
Judge Wu scheduled a hearing on the request for a new trial for late December.
Since the story surrounding the suicide became public last year, Mr. O’Brien has
discussed with his staff how his feelings as a parent motivated him to bring the
charges against Ms. Drew. He alluded to those feelings on Wednesday at a news
“This was obviously a case that means a lot to me,” he said.
The case has been a collection of anomalies. Judge Wu appeared ambivalent
regarding some key issues at the trial, like whether any testimony about Megan’s
suicide would be allowed (he did allow it) and how to rule on a defense motion
to throw out the charges (he had not ruled as of Wednesday).
Judge Wu was appointed to the federal bench less than two years ago, and it is
difficult to establish his sentencing record. But Mr. Akerman, the computer
fraud expert, said jail time was common even for first-time offenders in
computer fraud cases.
“If I were her,” he said of Ms. Drew, “I would not be celebrating over the
Tina Meier, Megan’s mother, said in a news conference after the verdict that she
hoped Ms. Drew would serve jail time, and that she felt satisfied.
“This day is not any harder than the day when I found Megan,” Ms. Meier said.
“This has never been about vengeance. This is about justice. For me it’s
absolutely worth it every single day sitting in that court hoping there was
LONDON (Reuters) - A British man convicted of what has been
described as the country's first "web-rage" attack, was jailed for 2-1/2 years
on Friday for assaulting a man he had exchanged insults with over the Internet.
Paul Gibbons, 47, from south London, admitted he had attacked John Jones in
December 2005 after months of exchanging abuse with him via an Internet chatroom
dedicated to discussing Islam.
The Old Bailey heard that Gibbons had "taken exception" to Jones, 43, after he
had made the claim that Gibbons had been "interfering with children".
After several more verbal and written exchanges -- with Jones threatening to
track him down and give him a severe beating -- Gibbons and a friend went to his
victim's house in Essex, armed with a pickaxe and machete.
Jones himself was armed with a knife but Gibbons took it off him, held it to his
throat and "scratched" him across the neck.
Gibbons, who the court heard had previous convictions for violence, admitted
unlawful wounding on the first day of his trial last month.
Other charges of attempted murder and issuing online threats to kill four other
chatroom users were not pursued but could be reactivated in future if he
Media reports said it was the country's first case of "web-rage" and Judge
Richard Hawkins described the circumstances as "unusual".
"This case highlights the dangers of Internet chat rooms, particularly with
regards to giving personal details that will allow other users to discover home
addresses," said Detective Sergeant Jean-Marc Bazzoni of Essex Police.