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.