Tag Archive | "Dharun Ravi"

Who’s Investigating You?

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In an age driven by technology where everyone has a public profile and privacy is becoming a thing of the past, it is not surprising that employers are using technology to learn more about prospective employees than ever before possible.  A recent story in the Washington Post tells the tale of Justin Bassett, a New York City statistician interviewing for a new position.


While most people expect interviewers to probe job candidates not merely on skills and experiences but also on personal attitudes and character, Justin was taken aback when the human resources person with whom he was interviewing requested his Facebook username and password so that she might review his private profile.  Refusing what he perceived as a gross invasion of privacy, Mr. Bassett withdrew his application for employment.


It seems that Justin’s story is becoming all too commonplace in a world where the private lives of ordinary people are just a few mouse clicks and key strokes from the eyes of virtually anyone able to gain access.  And, accessibility may often be gained with or without the knowledge and consent of the subjects of such investigations.


In the case of Justin Bassett, the person was forthcoming in her intent to view information about his personal life in determining his fitness for employment with her company.  One wonders, however, how many people have, in recent years, been denied employment based on personal information discovered by prospective employers online.


Facebook, Google, and other online destinations collect an enormous amount of information on visitors to their sites.  With baffling and continually changing privacy policies, few people are aware of the nature and amount of information that such sites collect purportedly to “improve the browsing experience” of their users.  Even fewer know what information they can hide and how they can do so.  Facebook’s “timeline” and Google “new privacy policy” both demonstrate that the thirst of Internet content purveyors for personal information about their site’s visitors is growing dramatically.


While some might believe that only those with something to hide need be concerned about online privacy and its impact on careers and lives, consider the fact that in our brave new world of online transparency a relatively minor indiscretion, photograph, or comment may become the basis for denial of employment or, for that matter, evidence in a future civil or criminal proceeding – whether or not the perception of the view is justified!


In the recent trial of Dharun Ravi on charges of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation that has become a cause célèbre among the gay and lesbian activist community, we learned that even deleted email and text messages can be retrieved from the archives of Internet and telecommunications service providers.  When one considers that our communications, browsing histories, and voluntarily supplied profile information (whether noted as “public” or “private”) is in one repository or another, virtually our entire lives have suddenly, and with limited warning, become a matter of record retrievable by government authorities or anyone demanding and granted access.  Now, almost everyone in the world lives in a proverbial “glass house.”


And, how many people will have the fortitude of Justin Bassett in denying access upon request when that request is made by someone with the power to grant employment, a loan, insurance coverage, or a plethora of other sought-after, critically-necessary products, services, or opportunities?


Do You Know Where Your Children Are? And What They are Doing? And to Whom?

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When it becomes incumbent upon a society to instill what should be innate critical thinking skills in its students, that society is headed down the log flume to hell.  But when those children grow up bereft of critical thinking skills, that society has landed smack dab in the middle of Satan’s barbecue.

One particular case-in-point now burning up the media, if not Hades, concerns the suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi.   Given the empirical evidence in this case, the boy’s suicide is widely assumed to be a direct result of the actions of his Rutgers University roommate, Dharun Ravi and that of Ravi’s cohort, fellow Rutgers U. freshman Molly Wei.  Ravi, who admitted knowing that Clementi was gay, committed a premeditated act by planning to videotape him in a private moment with another young man, and then to broadcast that private moment, as it occurred live, over the Internet.  Aided by Wei, Ravi executed his plan.  When young Clementi learned of it, he leapt to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Wei, whose computer Ravi appropriated to perform his despicable deed, claims she was unaware of Ravi’s mission.  The veracity of her claims is yet to be determined, as is the exact punishment, from both legal and academic standpoints, for Ravi and Wei.  The legal, moral, and social issues surrounding this case must be sorted out, and I don’t envy those tasked with the sorting.  However, I’ll give them and the rest us something else to consider beyond what appears to be the rank callousness and viciousness of Ravi and Wei.

I suggest that this suicide may have been the result of cultural differences.

Dharun Ravi is obviously of East Indian descent; Wei’s background is obviously Chinese.

Forget, for a moment, the fact that Ravi and Wei graduated from New Jersey high schools.  I’m not a private investigator, so I don’t know when (at what grade level) either one of them entered the U.S. schools; I don’t know if either one was born on U.S. soil.  In fact, those things may be moot.  But as a native New Yorker raised in our nation’s largest melting-pot city, and as a twenty-year resident of the culturally diverse State of New Jersey, I know from numerous firsthand observations and interactions that there are major differences between the American way of life and that of India and China.  And, I know that even though a child may be born in the United States, he or she is still a product of his or her environment, including his or her home life.

From my personal experience, I know that Chinese people do not view personal space as Americans do.  For the Chinese, such a concept is foreign, and for good reason.  In the most densely populated nation on Earth, if one were to demand personal space, one would lose one’s mind — for it is to be found nowhere but in the most remote, desolate regions of China.  Had Dharun Ravi asked me to use my computer, I’d have demanded to know why.  For one thing, my personal data would have been on that computer.  For another, any site that Ravi visited would have left a technological trail: an IP address that could be tracked back to my computer.  These are things well known by most college students.

If Wei was honestly ignorant of Ravi’s motives, why didn’t she question him as to why he needed her computer?   And if she was in on the plot, why did she allow him to lay claim to her computer for the purpose of destroying another student’s privacy, and ultimately, his life?  Was it because privacy is a concept foreign to her, a young woman raised with the mindset of the Chinese people?

And what about Ravi?

Roughly the size of Texas, the nation of India is greatly overpopulated.  The Indians seem to have adapted to this reality by embracing the notion of multiple generations living under one roof.  I postulate that this is done not only out of respect for the older generations, but also as a means of cohabitating peacefully under such crowded conditions.  From my many years of observation, it seems that when an Indian family has even the smallest errand to run, they arrive at their destination en masse.  Great-grandparents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren all make familial outings out of events as mundane as doctors’ appointments and runs to the supermarket.  Everyone is involved and everyone has an opinion.  Everyone knows each other’s business.  And this is a normal thing. 

Look a little deeper at both the Indian and Chinese cultures and you’ll see that homosexuality, for the most part, is not normal.  It is not accepted.  While Americans may debate the sanctity of gay marriage, on the whole, we have come to terms with the fact that open homosexuality is here to stay.  Most of us tolerate it, and plenty of us respect it as a personal choice (for the purpose of this article, I’m calling it a choice, so hold your fire: this is not a treatise on homosexuality).  India and China have older, more traditional cultures in which male-female marriages are still arranged and divorce is virtually nonexistent.  India’s divorce rate, for instance, is a mere 2% of its marriages!

I theorize, therefore, that as products of their culture, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei did not respect the concept of personal space/privacy.  Neither did they respect the fact that Clementi was gay.

Had Clementi been straight, would Ravi have filmed and exposed him for all the world to see?  Would he have announced his film hours in advance on the Internet, as Hollywood producers promote their films weeks before their release?  We’ll never know for certain, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that he wouldn’t have.  Straight sex on the Internet is old hat, as is straight sex on TV, film, and in books and magazines in American culture.

And now, we come back around to those critical thinking skills taught to children in U.S. classrooms, and the fact that in Western civilization, the age of reason — the age at which a child possesses the ability to tell right from wrong — is seven years old.  I don’t know when children overseas are thought to have reached the age of reason, but I do know that Ravi was 18 years old and had enough intelligence to pass his college entrance exams.

I also know that if we are going to continue to allow foreigners into this country, to live here and enjoy its many benefits, those foreigners should be educated as to our mores, as well as the consequences of disrespecting them.

I have a few suggestions as to how that should be done, prior to the foreigners’ entry into our country, but those are for another article.  If I’ve put some noses out of joint with this one, including those of the two cultures I’ve named here, and those of the ACLU, whose work I respected long ago, my own work is done.   Noses need to be put out of joint.  People must learn how to respect each other if they wish to live here.  Moreover, they must respect our Constitution, for it guarantees each American — regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation — our lives, our liberties, and our pursuits of happiness.

Until we reach this point, it is my fervent hope that Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  U.S. law, that is. 

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