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Cyber-bullying kills again

Amanda Todd, a thirteen-year-old girl in Maple Ridge, BC, was flattered and cajoled and coerced into flashing someone while playing around with friends on webcam. Someone took a screenshot — apparently they didn’t vet who was on that webcam chat very well. But they were young, and stupid, and there’s a damn good reason the age of consent is as high as it is in most places — because children don’t always have the maturity or intellect to provide informed consent.

A year later, Amanda received a message from someone on Facebook that she didn’t know, who demanded a private show or they’d send the picture to everyone she knew. They knew a good deal about her life — her parents’ names, her friends, her school. She ignored or rebuffed the blackmail demand. That Christmas, police came to her house at 4am to inform them that the picture existed and was spread around to a large number of people — very likely everyone at her school. Someone among the recipients must have had a conscience and reported the incident to the police.

Amanda became depressed and developed anxiety problems. All her friends started treating her horribly; she was left with nobody to lean on. She started self-harming. She moved to another city to escape the embarassment, and dabbled in drugs and alcohol. She became involved with a boy; the boy turns out to have had a girlfriend, who threw her to the ground and punched her repeatedly while other kids filmed it. They posted the video on Facebook, and declared that nobody liked Amanda and they hoped she saw their taunting and committed suicide.

So she drank bleach. She survived that suicide attempt, made a video that was essentially a last cry for help, and put it on Youtube.

A month later, she successfully committed suicide. She was 15 years old.

People are on her Youtube video right now asking for the pictures, saying things like “dumb bitch deserved it”, “rot in hell slut”, and “this world is not for the weak”, and generally exposing themselves as the sorts of bullying shitheels this internet is so desperate to protect under the rubric of “free speech”.

These people don’t want free speech. They want speech where they don’t have to deal with the consequences. They want to be able to swarm like jackals on anyone and anything that has an opinion that’s contrary to yours and treat them like shit and wear them down until there are real psychological consequences. And when someone commits suicide to escape the bullying, they’re declared “an hero”. And yet, when the bullies are exposed, they sweat and cry and whole social networks spring up from nothing and rally around to protect the “freedom of speech” necessary to protect the shitheels from consequences for their actions.

You’re free to speak. You’re free to do damage to others for your own twisted pleasure. But when you do, there will be consequences. People will find out who you are, and hold you to account. And now that the whole world’s looking, you should consider yourselves on notice.

Also: Jezebel asks if the bullies will stop, will have a change of heart on hearing about how this story played out. The answer is, I fear, a flat no.

Also also: Manboobz covers The Amazing Atheist’s completely unsurprising reaction. So does Pharyngula.

Comments

  1. Aliasalpha says

    Well it’s lucky dishonoured came out this week because for some reason I have an overwhelming desire to murder people

  2. says

    “Children can be so cruel!” That is what I used to say to things like this, but after this last year, seeing online mobs of so-called adults (tantrum-throwing children in all but calendar years, actually) indulging in the same sick sport, I don’t know. When did we decide we were “free” to hurt other people so? When did our freedom from accountability become the right that renders everyone else’s needs irrelevant?

  3. says

    Susannah: Yes. Exactly. There are “freedom of speech” fetishists who adamantly defend their right to hurt people without consequences. Where in real life, such harassment would lead to criminal charges, apparently the internet — where it’s slightly more difficult to find your identity — is some kind of safe harbor for miserable shitbags who think “freedom of speech” means freedom from consequences.

  4. laurentweppe says

    Well it’s lucky dishonoured came out this week because for some reason I have an overwhelming desire to murder people

    It’s also the story of a metropolis losing a third of its population to a plague caused by a boy who got supernatural powers from Nyarlathotep. -Take a deep voice- Behold the Wrath of a scorned child you heathen.

  5. says

    Is there not a campaign online to get the police to take these cases seriously? Just listening to the HFA video where RW talks about her adventures in trying to get the local police to take some threats she had seriously. Having a ‘file’ with the threat of a bullet in the head in the police station so they have a lead when you are shot in the head is not very reassuring. In this case the police getting involved and then not tracing the person is ridiculous. We are not talking about lulzsec or anything just a stupid idiot who will have left IP traces all over the place.

    Seems the police in the UK are ‘doing’ something at least – even if it is pursuing cases that mostly should not be pursued as they really are just ‘free speech’ issues.

  6. Bjarte Foshaug says

    When did we decide we were “free” to hurt other people so? When did our freedom from accountability become the right that renders everyone else’s needs irrelevant?

    Exactly, even if you are technically “free” to say/do something, in the sense that you won’t go to jail for doing so, doesn’t mean it’s not an awful, disgusting, evil thing to do, or that you’re not a monster if you behave that way.

    It’s not your freedom to say whatever you want that’s the problem. It’s wanting to say it in the first place that makes you a monster. How absolutely disgusting does a person have to be to think that telling an already desperately unhappy girl to kill herself is actually a worthwhile thing to do. After all, it’s not as if these vile comments write themselves. Not only did somebody have to think this horrible stuff in the first place, but they also had find it worth saying out loud (that joining the lynch mob in kicking the person already on the ground was in some sense better that not doing so). This is where we gaze directly into the darkest corners of the human soul.

    I linked to Jason’s post on my Facebook wall (“In case you needed to be cured of any lingering faith in humanity…”) along with the following comment (from me):

    I strongly urge everybody to watch Amanda’s video, and if your reaction is “She just needs, or rather needed, thicker skin”, then please unfriend me.

  7. DaveL says

    If there’s one thing the Internet has taught me, it’s that the general population is filled with predators. Most of them have convinced themselves they’re not predators because they always wait for the pack leader to take the first bite.

  8. Drolfe says

    they always wait for the pack leader to take the first bite.

    So authoritarian followers then? Now if only sociopaths weren’t so successful at attaining power and positions of leadership, problem solved. Haha, only serious.

  9. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Sorry if this comes through as derailing, but re. “needing thicker skin”, I used to think that charges of social Darwinism was just something that religious people liked to throw at atheists to poison the well. When that queen of awesomeness Susan Jacoby referred to the “group of modern-day social Darwinists who make up one component of the secular movement”, I assumed she was simply talking about libertarians. To be sure, those of my friends who (unlike me) self-identify as libertarians do indeed tend to suffer from the “just world” fallacy according to which success, fortune, and happiness are a reward for diligence, strength of character, and having the right attitude whereas failure, misfortune, and unhappiness are a punishment for laziness, a weak character, and bad attitudes.

    But what we have here seems to go far beyond even that. When bullies, like the ones who went out of their way to make Amanda’s life worse than no life at all, tell their victims to “toughen up”, or “just deal with it”, or “grow thicker skin”, or “get out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat” etc. (Wooly Bumblebee’s insanely malevolent and sociopathic attack on Jen McCreight and her father while her life was already hell is a perfect example), What they seem to be saying is that only those who can be expected to positively thrive in a perfectly amoral and unjust world deserve to live at all. Ironically, this is the kind of social-Darwinist dystopia that religious people hold up as the frightening consequence of atheism, and there’s nothing I hate more than seeing other atheists hand their points to them on a silver plate like the Amazing Psychopath and his fellow wastes of space are doing every time they utter a word.

  10. Sgaile-beairt says

    When did we become this way??? ask the victims of the lynch mobs whose photos were distributed as professionallly produced postcards until the US mail finally shut it down….back in the “good old days” !!

  11. Sgaile-beairt says

    Violent bullying and death porn (the crreepshots guy was also doing a “dead kids pictures” subreddit which doesnt get mentioned so much in all the stuff about how we are a puritanical nation stifling sexxy free speech) are older than dirt and dont need internets, anonymity or even electricity. just ask the victims of pogroms and genocide and lynch mobs, their neighbors came for them after knowing them face to face all their lives and then displayed their bodies for entertainment in the public square wo shame.

    the new thing is public disapproval and using technology to shut it down, thats the modern twist….

  12. w00dview says

    These people don’t want free speech. They want speech where they don’t have to deal with the consequences. They want to be able to swarm like jackals on anyone and anything that has an opinion that’s contrary to yours and treat them like shit and wear them down until there are real psychological consequences.

    Spot on Jason. The fact that anyone who has a contrary opinion with these asshats is not merely disagreed with, but hounded, stalked and harassed means that they only want the freedom to speak their minds to apply to them. Anyone who disagrees with them deserves all the hatred and bullying they can muster. I find that people who argue FREEZE PEACH!! when they really mean freedom from consequences are authoritarians of the worst kind trying desperately to look for an excuse to handwave their mindless mob behaviour.

    Ironically, this is the kind of social-Darwinist dystopia that religious people hold up as the frightening consequence of atheism, and there’s nothing I hate more than seeing other atheists hand their points to them on a silver plate like the Amazing Psychopath and his fellow wastes of space are doing every time they utter a word.

    I find such atheists come to their conclusion not by actually looking at the harmful consequences of religion or other such woo and deciding that reasoned skeptism can lead to a more ethical way to treat our fellow humans but merely to feel superior to those silly theists for believing in their magic man in the sky. They seem perfectly fine with the misogyny, racism, homophobia and willful ignorance that religion props up and want to merely secularise them.

  13. silomowbray says

    I’m a parent. I live in the same metro area as Amanda Todd did. When I first read the story about her tragedy I wept. Now, every time I see her picture I feel crying again. And I’m anxious about the safety and mental health of my own children.

    The poor girl. And her poor mom. And then we are treated to the callous commentary from categorical fuckheads. It’s agonizing to constantly swing back and forth between abject sadness and homicidal anger. Even after all of the progress we’ve made as a civilization, how do we yet remain so fucking awful? :(

  14. ibelieveindog, the silent beagle says

    I followed the link to Jezebel. Some of the comments there are horrid.

    This poor girl’s video won’t stop the bullying, partly because the blind privilege, lack of empathy, and victim-blaming that’s going on in the comments at Jezebel encourages bullying.

  15. laurentweppe says

    I used to think that charges of social Darwinism was just something that religious people liked to throw at atheists to poison the well

    Remember that social darwinism was invented as an ideology before Darwin published origin of species: they started describing themselves as social darwinists in order to make their “Fuck the Rubes” ideology appear all sciencey and intellectually sound.
    The point is Social Darwinists are to Darwinism what National Socialists are to Socialism: a band of impostors who stole a brand in order to con unsuspecting people.

    ***

    What they seem to be saying is that only those who can be expected to positively thrive in a perfectly amoral and unjust world deserve to live at all

    Why, yes: unlike what some people who overuse the term “sociopath” like to claim, bullies are very good at imagining themselves in the boots of their victims. And at the core of a bully’s logic lie these core assumptions:

    If I was bullied, I would want revenge. I would know that my tormentor would never ever stop and would try to get back at me if I fought back, so, screwed for screwed, I would at least take pleasure in gutting them in their sleep and taking them down with me.

    ***

    Ironically, this is the kind of social-Darwinist dystopia that religious people hold up as the frightening consequence of atheism

    Well, it has been argued by some that religions exist in the first place to keep bullies in check: as in “there’s an allmighty, all-knowing creator of the universe, who just told me, your high priest, that if you find a bully harming his fellow Man -or Woman, or Child- anyone willing to gang up on him and crush his balls will get a special treat in the afterlife

  16. says

    Does anyone know anything about what happened to the men in this story?

    1. the guy who took the screen shot. That was kiddie porn, was it not? Why is he not in jail?

    2. the guy (assuming it’s a different one) who attempted to blackmail her into putting on a show for him. Another (0r the same) child predator. Not in jail? Does anyone know?

    3. the “older guy friend” who had sex with her then set the girlfriend loose on her. Statutory rape? Yes? No? What happened to him?

    I realize none of this will bring Todd back. I just wonder how what looks to me like blatantly illegal acts have gone unpunished or not even investigated. What am I missing?

  17. patrick parker says

    Thank you for writing about this. This breaks my heart. Bullying on the internet is out of control and needs to be addressed. We can petition for laws to be put in place to prevent this sort of thing but as communities , we need to come together to put a stop to this sort of thing. I have joined an anti-bullying group on facebook in the city I live in:

    http://www.facebook.com/groups/operationbullyhorn/?fref=ts

    I would suggest people look into this and if there is not one in their town, start one. It allows those who feel disenfranchised to find support and allows the community as a whole to put a stop to it. Parents can not always control what their children do but a town can.

  18. JohnnieCanuck says

    Sadunlap,

    I’ve seen the coverage in the local paper, the Vancouver Sun. You’ll find a lot of articles about it there.

    http://www.vancouversun.com

    One of the latest ones is about the 400 tips the RCMP have received. It also quotes her mother as saying:

    Todd’s mother Carol told The Sun on Friday that police initially traced Amanda’s online stalker to someone in the United States, but the trail went dead because those types of “people are very good at hiding their tracks.”

    People in BC are beginning to lose confidence in the ability of the police to find offenders in such cases.

    Read more

  19. Apparently Not Erin says

    sadunlap,

    Concerning your #3: It really depends on how you interpret “older”. When I initially read it, I had figured it meant she’d known him for years and not that he was considerably older than her – they were meeting in the school library during lunch.

    Even if he was older than her, from what I can tell from her video, she was 14 at the time. In Canada, although the legal age of consent (for sex with an adult) is 16, a 14-15 year old can have sex with someone up to 5 years older (so age 19 in her case…unless she was 13 and then only someone up to age 15).

    Chances are (since it seemed he was attending school with her) that he fell within that 14-19 age range and therefore won’t be charged for statutory rape. That doesn’t make what he did any less wrong, just not illegal.

  20. sinned34 says

    Apparently some members of Anonymous have jumped into the fray and posted the name and some information on the alleged stalker that tormented this poor girl to her death.

    I sure hope it’s the right guy, but that’s always the risk with this sort of vigilante justice, isn’t it?

    I fucking hate humanity occasionally most of the time.

  21. Jenora Feuer says

    And, one of the later updates in this, mentioned on the CBC this morning: Negative Amanda Todd post costs man his job

    Todd is the 15-year-old who killed herself last week after suffering years of bullying. Many online memorial sites have popped up in response to her death, and thousands of people have posted comments on them.

    Christine Claveau was looking at a site when she saw what she thought was a particularly hateful anonymous post.

    She said the comment read, “It’s about time this bitch died.”

    Claveau said she tracked down the identity of the sender in Toronto and forwarded a note to his employer, the retail store Mr. Big and Tall.

    The man was fired.

    [...]

    Claveau said she has received a lot of response to what happened — most of it positive but some of it negative.

    “You can’t please everybody, so I’m getting a lot of people saying I was the bully in the matter, or it wasn’t right to contact his employer. So I’m getting a little bit of negative backlash.”

    There was a whole lot of ‘What is this I don’t even…’ on the Metro Morning radio show this morning. Apparently the man who posted the comment claimed he was doing it as some sort of social experiment to see what it would take to get people to react after ignoring the original YouTube video for weeks. Yeah, right. On the other hand, posting it on FaceBook from an account that has links to your place of employment, even with some anonymization attempt, shows a certain lack of thinking about consequences.

  22. says

    That’s horrible to say the least. That a child should end their life for reasons like this is ghastly. I wish her parents had been more careful and vocal with her. We need to talk to our children more, and even track their online activities fully. I am sure there are people who advocate privacy for kids but to me their life is more important than their privacy. I use a free app called Qustodio to not only block harmful sites but also keep a tab on what they download or who they talk to as it allows me to view the profile pictures of the accounts my daughter engages with. For God’s sake, they are not in a position to take wise decisions themselves.

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