Twitter-assisted suicide

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Last weekend a media friend was gossiping to my wife and me about Bobby Kennedy’s girlfriend’s tweets in the weeks before his estranged wife Mary Richardson Kennedy committed suicide. If you read this tabloid story, it seems that the girlfriend, actress Cheryl Hines, was flaunting her relationship with Kennedy and encroaching on other relationships that the late wife saw as hers, for instance with the actress Glenn Close and with the Kennedy children.

I don’t know whether Mary Kennedy saw those tweets. I bet she heard about them. But testimony in the Dharun Ravi trial said that Tyler Clementi checked his then-Rutgers roommate Ravi’s twitter page 37 times before he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Here are some of Ravi’s vicious tweets about Clementi’s gay explorations.

One of the first things that happened after both suicides is that Ravi and Hines took down some tweets. 

Leaving aside the possible malice/stupidity of the tweeters, these cases make me wonder about the social engine that is at work here. Both tweeters were communicating with a community, a cohesive social world, or a world they were trying to form with social media. Both suicides surely felt alienated from those communities.

I’m not calling for the end of twitter, far from it, but to recognize the power of social media for good and ill. One of the great things that came out of the Dharun Ravi trial was Richard Kim of the Nation saying that communities have to take more responsibility here. Communities have to make the young alienated Tyler Clementis of the world feel greater acceptance. He surely felt transparent because of social media. But of course transparency can be empowering.

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