A year after student’s suicide, Rutgers focuses on dangers, benefits of social media

Along with educators and students, the parents of the late Tyler Clementi attended a symposium at Rutgers University Monday to talk about the dangers of misusing social media.

Joe Clementi said his family is forming a nonprofit foundation to raise awareness of cyber-bullying. His son, who was a Rutgers freshman, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in North Jersey last year after a roommate allegedly used a web cam to spy on his intimate encounter with another man. The roommate also is accused of telling friends on a social network what he saw.

Jorge Schement, dean of the School of Communication at Rutgers, said strong peer communities on campus help students avoid being hurt by social media.

“The tragedy of Tyler Clementi is that he was only here a few weeks. Those networks hadn’t yet developed, but we know they develop,” Schement said. “We know that kids look after each other. We know that some of that texting activity is, if you didn’t show up in class, there would be three or four texting you and saying, ‘Are you OK? Where are you?’ “

Schement said parents need to talk to their kids about what can happen from the misuse of social networks.

Maurice Elias, a professor of psychology at Rutgers, added that an individual’s character ultimately determines what he or she will do with social media.

“My focus is how do we make it so that people don’t want to use the media to hurt others, because I think that’s the key thing,” he said. “The media create opportunities, but that does not cause anybody to be uncivil to anybody else.”

Elias said full implementation of New Jersey’s anti-bullying law will help prevent problems.

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