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A Look in the Mirror

Eric Kettinger
COM 336 A Christina Shaw

On September 19, 2014 Apple released the iPhone 6, the newest and most advanced
addition to its arsenal of cellular communication. Pre-orders for the phone within the first day of
availability reached a record 4 million, and over 10 million were sold in its first three days on the
market. Advances in technology and communication such as the iPhone 6 seem to appear in the
news on nearly a daily basis. Marketers place a huge emphasis on the positive aspects of
communication these days, but how often do its negative repercussions catch our attention?
Furthermore, why and how is it that people use communication as a means for negative
purposes, namely to exploit and dehumanize their classmates, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow
citizens? This side of communication, the dark side, is an umbrella term that addresses
negative aspects and outcomes of communication. It is a seldom examined yet immensely
serious and important issue. Addressing and understanding the dark side of communication are
the initial steps to be taken in order to combat it.
There are various categories of the dark side of communication, but perhaps the most
sinister is the objectification and dehumanization of our fellow man. The prevailing idea here is
that the thing is easier to exploit, neglect, abuse, and kill than the person (Shaw, 2014). Hitler
did not see Jews as human beings with souls and feelings, but rather as objects taking up space.
Plantation owners did not view slaves as mothers, fathers, and children with families, but rather
as assets through which they could generate money. Similar thought behaviors are an important
factor in what drive things like human trafficking, sexual assault, and cyber bullying today.
Cyber bullying is defined by Charisse Nixon, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pennsylvania
State University, as the hurting of another individual via communication and information
technology. This can include text messages, comments on social media, the posting of pictures,

or threats made electronically (Nixon, 2014). One such example of cyber bullying is the story of
Tyler Clementi.
Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old gifted musician and freshman at Rutgers University.
He was also homosexual. A few weeks into the school year, he and another male engaged in
sexual activity in Tylers dorm room. Unbeknownst to Tyler, his roommate, Dharun Ravi,
placed a webcam in their room and live-streamed the scene to the internet from a friends dorm
room. That same night Ravi posted a tweet reading Roommate asked for the room till midnight.
I went to Mollys room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay. A
few days later, Tyler ended his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Minutes
before doing so, he posted to Facebook Jumping off the gw bridge sorry (Foderaro, 2010).
A promising life ended prematurely. We will never know why exactly Tyler committed
suicide. Perhaps he had been contemplating it for some time and this incident was the impetus
that convinced him to do so. Or maybe the incident was the sole reason why Tyler ended his
life. Again, we will never know as is the case with so many suicides. What we do know is that a
young mans privacy was violated and the result was fatal. This is not, however, strictly an issue
of vulnerability or even the ubiquity of todays technology. We are all vulnerable and likely do
things that we would rather not be streamed to the entire world. Rather, this is an issue of what
drives a person to objectify, dehumanize, and exploit another human being, specifically via
Communication in and of itself is not inherently good or bad; the abuse of
communication is where problems arise. Advances in technology, such as the iPhone 6, have
made communication more efficient but also abuse of it easier. Methods of communication such
as texting and social media place a barrier between communicators that is not present in face-to-

face interactions. This barrier, like communication, is not inherently good or bad. However, it is
all too often used for malevolent purposes, as seen in the case with Tyler Clementi. This barrier
is here to stay so in order to address its pitfalls we need to understand it, live with it, and prevent
the abuse of it.
Detachment from those with whom we communicate is facilitated through this barrier.
Sometimes this barrier can work to our advantage, such as when we desire to communicate
things that simply might be hard or uncomfortable to do in person. Problems arise, however,
when we forget or neglect the fact that there is a human being, not just a phone or computer, on
the receiving end of that communication. People too often say negative and wounding things on
social media and chat rooms that they would never say in person largely because many personal
aspects of communication are removed via this barrier. As a result, cyber bullying has become
perhaps the biggest threat to self-esteem, emotional stability, and outlook on life for todays
youth. Ultimately, however, this problem is perpetuated not by a barrier but by those who fail to
understand the consequences of their words.
Some might believe that bullying is inevitable, part of growing up, and that individuals
such as Tyler Clementi simply have low self-esteem and should toughen up. These people fail
to comprehend the severity and long-term implications of bullying, specifically that done online.
A study in the United Kingdom found that 19.7% of 473 young people surveyed aged 11-19
reported being cyberbullied. Roughly half the respondents knew somebody who had been
cyberbullied and a similar proportion reported cyberbullying others at some point (OBrien &
Moules, 2013). The good news is that cyber bullying can be prevented. Given our freedom of
speech, protected under the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, government cannot
necessarily regulate what is said and communicated over texts, social media, and web sites.

Schools have a hard time doing this as well since most cyberbullying is done outside of school,
as opposed to traditional bullying. That being said, James OShaughnessy, associate at law
firm Upton & Hatfield, LLP., notes School officials should and are authorized to regulate
bullying that is perpetrated using the districts internet system or network and by students using
personal electronic devices at school (OShaughnessy, 2011). It should be noted arguments
have been made that cyber bullying qualifies as what is referred to as fighting words.
Fighting words are an exception to the First Amendment, albeit a rarity. Spelled out by
the Supreme Court in Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, it was ruled that There are certain welldefined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have
never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the
profane, the libelous, and the insulting or fighting words those which by their very utterance
inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace (Smolla, 2009). Interpretations
of this ruling, however, consistently fail to conclude that cyber bullying falls into the above
requirements to be considered fighting words.
The reason is this: cyber bullying, however emotionally damaging, for the most part fails
to pose an imminent and immediate threat to ones safety. As First Amendment scholar Rodney
Smolla puts it, Nearly everyone seems to concede that a verbal attack directed at a particular
individual in the sort of face-to-face confrontation that presents a clear and present danger of a
violent physical reaction may be penalized (The Demise of the "Chaplinsky" Fighting Words
Doctrine, 1993). In other words, if a student posted on a blog a statement such as Im going to
kill you which was explicitly directed toward another individual, and this other individual felt
seriously threatened, the post could potentially be considered fighting words. If, however, the
statement was simply making fun of another individual, something such as Did you see that

hideous outfit she wore today? What a loser! this would in all likelihood this would not qualify
as fighting words.
So, if we cannot easily monitor and take legal action against the perpetrators of cyber
bullying, what exactly can we do? What can be done is to focus on preventing people from cyber
bullying in the first place. Perhaps cyber bullying is not necessarily a consequence of mediated
communication, but rather a reflection of todays culture, society, and youth. To sustainably
prevent cyber bullying from occurring, what we ultimately need is a cultural shift. Ideally, youth
should refrain from cyber bullying not out of fear for discipline but rather because it is the right
thing to do. This is certainly easier said than done, but its what is needed to most effectively
resolve this epidemic and prevent yet another tragic result of cyber bullying. Precisely how to go
about doing so is the million dollar question.
The best solution is creating an environment in our homes, schools, and communities
where our youth are loved, appreciated for who they are, accepted, and accepting. In the journal
School Psychology International, two solutions offered to combat cyber bullying were: develop
a positive school culture where students learn to be kind to each other and work on creating
positive self-esteem in students (Cassidy, Jackson, & Brown. 2009). Our youth need to
understand that what differentiates them pales in comparison to what unites them. They need to
understand that different is not bad, it is simply different. A culture with the above elements will
overwhelmingly mold youth who have no desire to engage in cyber bullying.
Youth who are brought up in these supportive environments will have higher levels of
confidence and self-esteem. When these youth think highly of themselves, they will be unfazed
by cyber bullying they might encounter. These youth will understand that when you believe

someones opinion is irrelevant, his or her words become powerless. When someones words
become powerless, you achieve personal freedom over that person. In other words, you simply
do not care what that person thinks because you know who you are, you know they are wrong,
and you rise above it. In essence, you become liberated from the power of others opinions
because thats just what they are: opinions. You know the facts. It is not insensitivity; it is
simply an unwavering knowledge and acceptance of the truth. This is an infinitely powerful
mindset. As the saying goes, a lion does not concern himself with the opinion of sheep. The key
here is to build supportive, accepting, and confidence-building environments for our youth in
order to develop this emotional resolve.
What this mentality will do is eliminate the demand and consequently supply of cyber
bullying. Cyber bullies, and most tough guys for that matter, do what they do in order to get
some sort of reaction. They want to look cool or powerful in front of their friends, assert their
perceived dominance, or boost their own self-esteem based on the reaction they get. When that
reaction is nonexistent, they will get bored and stop. Efforts to eliminate the supply of cyber
bullying are noble but the most effective focus is the one placed on eliminating demand because
doing so will have the direct effect of also eliminating supply.
In his Crisis of Confidence speech given in 1979, President Jimmy Carter said, I do not
promise you that this struggle for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of our
nations problems, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. Likewise, the
process of eliminating cyber bullying will be neither easy nor brief. What it will be is worth the
all-out effort it will require. Innovations in technology will continue to occur and consequently
the venues through which cyber bullying can occur may very well increase. What we as a
society must do to defeat this dark side of communication is raise and educate self-confident

youth who refrain from abusing technology for the sole reason that it is simply the moral thing to

Cassidy, W., Jackson, M., & Brown, K. (2009). Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones, But
How Can Pixels Hurt Me?: Students Experiences with Cyber-Bullying. School
Psychology International, 30(4), 14-14.
Foderaro, L. W. (2010). Private moment made public, then a fatal jump. The New York
Times, 29.
Nixon, C.L. (2014). Current perspectives: the impact of cyberbullying on adolescent health.
Adolescent Health, Medicine & Therapeutics, 5143-158.
OBrien, N. & Moules, T. (2013). Not sticks and stones but tweets and texts: findings from a
national cyberbullying project. Pastoral Care in Education, 31(1), 53-65.
O'Shaughnessy, J. (2011). Is Cyber Bullying the Next "Columbine": Can New-Hampshire
Schools Prevent Cyber-Bullying and Avoid Liability? New Hampshire Bar
Journal, 52(1), 50-50.
Shaw, C. (November 7, 2014). The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication. Advanced
Interpersonal Communication. Lecture conducted from Oxford, OH.
Smolla, R. (2009). Words "Which by Their Very Utterance Inflict Injury": The Evolving
Treatment of Inherently Dangerous Speech in Free Speech Law and Theory. Pepperdine
Law Review, 36(2).

The Demise of the "Chaplinsky" Fighting Words Doctrine: An Argument for Its Interment.
(1993). Harvard Law Review, 106(5), 1133-1133.