The cyberbullying case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who killed himself in 2010, reached a partial conclusion today as former Rutgers student Molly Wei agreed to cooperate with authorities. In exchange for help in the prosecution of a fellow student, Dharun Ravi, Wei agreed in court today to join an intervention program that requires her to perform 300 hours of community service over the next three years and undergo counseling for cyberbullying.
Wei and Ravi faced charges after Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman, threw himself off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, upon learning that Ravi had encouraged fellow students to view a webcast of Clementi and another man having sex. Wei's laptop was used to view the webcam video; Wei also allegedly watched the sexual encounter.
Clementi's family issued a statement today that said, "Actions have consequences. We wish that Ms. Wei will become a person who will make better decisions, will help people, and show kindness to those she comes in contact with."
Wei's attorney, Rubin Sinins, countered that while his client took responsibility for her actions, she had been unfairly maligned.
"She has been demonized as a cyberbully and sort of the poster child for cyberbullying, which could not be further from the truth," said Sinins. He added, "Even before there was any arrest, even before there were any charges Molly was fully cooperative with law enforcement…"
New Jersey's pretrial intervention program is available to first time non-violent offenders. If Wei meets all the requirements of the program, the charges against her will be dropped after a three-year period. She might otherwise have faced jail time for alleged invasion of privacy and other charges.
Clementi's suicide caused national outrage and became a symbol of the problem of cyberbullying, much like the case of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts. She killed herself in January 2010 after being bullied by classmates at South Hadley High School.
This week, five students in the Phoebe Prince case also faced a judge and pled guilty to various crimes. All five received sentences that included probation and community service. In court this week, Phoebe Prince's mother, Anne O'Brien, lashed out at her daughter's tormentors, calling one a "predator" and crying that another was "not capable of compassion."
In their statement today, the Clementi family also denounced the callous behavior of their son's fellow students.
"We are here to witness this criminal proceeding on Tyler's behalf, on our own behalf, and on behalf of the many people throughout the country and the world following this case who are concerned that there be accountability for violations of basic standards of decent human behavior."
But in an interview after Ms. Wei's court appearance, attorney Sinins argued that sometimes those basic standards of decent human behavior were being violated by the very people who denounced cyberbullying.
"The paradox of this case and others like it is that those who may be accused of cyberbullying are maligned -- and how are they maligned? In the context of this 24-hour online news cycle where misinformation spreads like wildfire… that's the irony of the whole thing." He said he wondered where Wei would go to get her reputation back after the charges against her were dropped.
The case against Dharun Ravi is still proceeding.