The suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer has moved Lady Gaga to confront President Obama about bringing an end to the anti-gay bullying that led the young “It Gets Better” video-maker to take his own life. But the cyberbullying that Rodemeyer faced is not only prevalent, but the young people perpetuating it do not even realize the harm they are causing. A new Associated Press-MTV poll found that half of young people regularly encounter discriminatory slang in online communications, and most say they aren’t very offended by it. In fact, young people are twice as likely to suggest that biased slurs are used “to be funny” or “to sound cool” than to actually express hateful feelings toward a group of people.
Perhaps more disconcerting is that 54 percent of young people think it’s OK to use discriminatory words within their own circle of friends, because “I know we don’t mean it.” The resulting desensitization is so severe that only 44 percent said they’d be very or extremely offended by someone’s use of the “N-word.” Anti-gay rhetoric is particularly common, with two-thirds of respondents indicating they regularly hear “that’s so gay” used to demean something, and most aren’t offended by it. Even among young people who are gay or know someone who is, only 39 percent are seriously offended by the use of “fag” — the number dips to 23 percent for all others.
But Rodemeyer’s mother, Tracy Rodemeyer, indicates that that is exactly the kind of cyberbullying that Jamey experienced, as he shared in his video and on his blog. As she told Anderson Cooper last night, almost all of the harassment he faced leading up to his death took place online:
RODEMEYER: If you look into his life he did [his “It Gets Better” video] in May, and from May to June, at the end of school there, everything seemed fine. And if we didn’t have all these social networks out there — the Facebook, you know, and the Internet in general — that is where a lot of the bullying occurs. I mean, so he wasn’t in school for the months of July and August. Twenty years ago, that would have probably meant you didn’t have to worry about bullying, but because people can access each other in numbers so readily, it just made it still accessible for people to do their bullying.
The Amherst Police Department’s Special Victims Unit has launched a criminal investigation to see if students who bullied Jamey Rodemeyer should be charged with harassment, cyber-harassment, or hate crimes.