Amanda Todd, cyberbullying, and the open internet.

There has been a lot of talk recently about this incident of a youth suicide as a consequence of bullying. It’s interesting not simply because a poor young girl suffered, nor because she was caused to take her own life, but because much attention and worry has been put upon the means by which she was caused to do so, namely the internet.

As per the (uncorroborated) facts, it sounds like the person who perpetrated this was an adult. This raises the concern of pedophilia. Pedophilia and harassment, truly a terrible combination.

Where for are we to then look for a resolution of this? We cannot bring the girl back, nor will punishing the perpetrator do a whole lot to stop such things from happening (not to say that shouldn’t/ will not occur). Websites like 4chan, reddit, youtube, really any website where people act and speak from a position of anonymity have always been places where hate is thrown about as if it were a plush play ball, and trolling a game. Ought we to remove the resource of anonymity? What ought we do? Ought we do anything at all?

I believe that to react to this case, at all, would be a mistake. No good legislation ever comes from knee-jerk reactions. And I do not believe that we ought to here do that.

I think the problem is one of morality. You knew I was going to say that, and perhaps saying so is a cop-out. People will believe what they believe, and as many people get stepped upon, they’re going to continue to stomp upon others. I have even heard claims which amount to bullying being natural, and what we perceive to be a wave of online hate is actually nothing novel, but since we’re all connected we can just see it all now.

When it comes down to it, I think we need to continue to teach our kids well, and to as adults not allow the adults which we deal with to be dicks. Perhaps that’s the key. Out jerks for what they are, make being an asshole a socially reprehensible act.

As per what ought to be done with respect to the internet? I argue nothing. Anonymity doesn’t just protect those who do evil, it also protects those who do good, and those who simply do. I view the internet as the backbone of international freedom. States and groups can do and act as they please, but with the internet they cannot get a whole lot by us. Without the internet, powerful people and populous groups could do just about anything, get away with it, and really none of us would know.

When I see people attacking the openness of the internet for things like child pornography, hacking, and harassment, I recoil with fright. I believe we’re always going to have such things, but we’re not always going to have a free and open internet. And it is worth keeping the internet open and free, if only for good information (with the bad) and for keeping a free line of communication between all the citizens of the Earth.

Put it this way, if in the time of slavery in the United States there was accounts of sexual abuse in the underground railroad, ought those who depend upon it for their own freedom scrap it in favour of protecting those affected? No. Of course not, because the problems associated with having no underground railroad are larger than these other problems which are going to happen anyway.

We cannot kill the current state of the internet to protect people, because keeping the internet open and free is a great means to protect the very same people.

Now, I am not condoning these terrible things. I am just asking for patience. We need to keep the internet as it is and we need to turn our focus onto the citizens which constitute our world(s).

It’s really terrible what happened to that girl, and all the other horrible things which occur on the internet ought themselves to be stopped/rectified/known by every soul that lives to be bad. But we’re not going to be able to do this if we scapegoat that resource which we require to make it through this period of transition which is causing all the world(s)’ joints to creak and groan.

The internet isn’t our savior in the sense of Christ without sin, rather the internet is more like a human in that it has a lot of good, a lot of bad, and everything in between. And like a child, depending on how we treat it and what we put into it, and how we interact with it, it will become better or worse accordingly.

I hope we can treat the internet better than we did that poor girl. And perhaps if we can do so then the internet (as an aggregate of information and people) will be in a better position to protect a similar such person in the future.

– J

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About Ossington

I often think but seldom share these thoughts. And if the product of my thinking is to affect anything but my own sense of satisfaction, then surely it must be shared. Here you may try to know what I believe to know.
This entry was posted in conjecture, Ethics, freedom, future, internet, morality, philosophy, thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Amanda Todd, cyberbullying, and the open internet.

  1. Interesting perspective on this case. A lot of laws (regardless of the type of incident) come into effect as a knee-jerk reaction to an event. I also agree that knee-jerk reactions aren’t good because they capitalize on the hype of the situation at the moment and then die out once the public has moved onto other things—(i.e. tend to be short-lived, not all, but most of them)….. The Amanda Todd case is heartbreaking—I don’t really know what the best solution is in a case like this, but I think parenting young kids and instilling them with morals (so they turn into decent adults) is probably a good starting point. Insightful post!

    • Cafe says:

      I concur with this. Having studied criminology, I know how many laws have come to pass based on sensational cases — without enough thought put into them. These laws can end up being harmful and affect more than just those for whom it’s supposedly intended for. Bullying is a social problem, resources should be spent combating the underlying reasons for bullying as well as to help those who are being bullied.

  2. I think Internet safety should be mandatory teaching in school, along with how to deal with bullies. One of the things kids don’t know is how to deal with bullies, especially ones they can’t find, and many don’t realize that telling an adult isn’t a bad thing. If we could get that to happen, I think we’d be taking a step in the right direction.

  3. This whole event just breaks my heart…Amanda Todd was a beautiful girl and yet someone still made her feel less than that. She needed someone. We are all so busy within our own lives we forget that others are starving for live and acceptance. Some to the ultimate point…so sad. Wonderful post though, shining light on something helps to make a difference. thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed. Keep writing!

  4. I agree. The Internet reflects humanity–the good and the bad–but on a global scale instead of a local neighborhood or school yard. And I read that Canada has some of the harshest laws for virtual bullies. A Canadian Internet Bully may go to jail for as long as ten years.

    But the Internet allows bullies to feel safer because they may think they are anonymous and no one can catch them. However, governments and Internet providers have the ability to track down the computer and owner of the computer the message came from. It’s called an IP address. Each machine hooked to the Internet has one or it cannot operate.

    In addition, because we have WordPress Blogs (I don’t know about other Blog platforms), we have access to the IP addresses of everyone that leaves comments for our posts. I have traced Internet Tolls that left comments on my Blogs to locations in America, China, Australia, Malaysia, and these were Trolls that all said they were Americans–even the one from a remote, poor area of rural China who claimed to be a disabled American veteran.

  5. segmation says:

    I think the more information we put out there about using the internet and also I try, it is not always possible to monitor my daughters email and facebook so I can possible help out and stop these terrible things from happening. Although we can’t help mean people in doing mean things on the internet but atleast if we can try to watch our children’s facebook and other things we can try to stop these actions. I feel so sad for the family that loss their daughter. I wish there is a solution.

  6. 1stpeaksteve says:

    I have always felt that the internet in some ways needs to swing a tad bit more to center and it should not involve many laws. From a business stand point, if you are running a site for a newspaper (for example), and the anonymous posters are calling each other derogatory names and dropping the f-bomb every five words. How is this adding to the value of the product? What kind of value can a company take from a poster named Harry Balls? So it should be up to the business to police their own product from a business point of view.

    I am leery with letting criminal activity slide.

    Good post though. I am interested to see how people view this.

  7. susielindau says:

    My daughter was harassed a couple of times when in middle school through texts and MySpace. I remember how devastated she was. I think she got through it by finding a new great group of friends. Not all kids are that lucky.
    Great post! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  8. “When I see people attacking the openness of the internet for things like child pornography, hacking, and harassment, I recoil with fright. I believe we’re always going to have such things, but we’re not always going to have a free and open internet. And it is worth keeping the internet open and free, if only for good information (with the bad) and for keeping a free line of communication between all the citizens of the Earth.”

    Nonetheless, more clamping down on harassment needs to be done so that everyone can feel free to express their opinions without fear of getting attacked by an angry (usually privileged) mob. The Internet self-policing itself by exposing the perpetrators to the world has received renewed attention due to current events, and I think that is the best way to keep the Internet free even if the mob mentality problem is still inherent in that method. At the very least, the illusory “anonymity” of the Internet isn’t going to be taken for granted by many people from here on out, and that’s as good as anything to ensure accountability.

  9. I don’t know if legislation is the right answer in response to the threat of cyber bullying, what I do know is that as parents and educators we have an obligation to prepare our offspring for an unsafe, often unfair and dangerous world. The company I work for http://www.playgroundentertainment.com teaches kids the fundamentals of teamwork and sports, which I believe are a good way of avoiding many of the pitfalls of adolescence.

  10. You have covered many issues within your post. The Internet is a saint but also a sinner-there are pros and cons to everything and the Internet is just something else we need to consider.
    To hear about my uneventful-yet-funny life as a British teen, go to uniquelysophie.wordpress.com

  11. OK …. While I agree we should be careful in our approach. I do not agree that protecting pornographers, pimps, or pedophiles should in any way be part of our agenda.

    Those who choose a bad lifestyle, will protect themselves.

    We need to protect children.

    IMHO.

    Now. I enjoyed your blog post. It is difficult to discuss freedom in any venue. And the internet is sometimes the most difficult venue of all.

    Congratulations! You are writing well.

    ghost.

    • Ossington says:

      Thanks. Yeah the whole pedo problem is a pickle indeed. Sure we COULD take measures to eradicate online pedophilia and child molesters in the real world… but it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and it would essentially turn the world into a prison. It would essentially stop the molestation of some and end up molesting all of us (in a figurative way), all at once. Yuck.

      Therefore we have to find a way to get at the root of the problem, to get into people and stop these things from arising within them. It won’t be easy, but I’m certain it will be worth it.

      … worth it and never 100% effective. But that’s life in the real world.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • tax pornography …. restrict homosexuality to consenting adults only, and give it NO publicity.

        pedophilia would drop 80%, the cost would be offset by the tax.

        🙂

        Just because I am a ghost, does not mean I do not think about the real world.

        ghost.

      • Ossington says:

        ‘restrict homosexuality to consenting adults only’ ??

        Seems like a strange thing to say. Sex ought only to be between consenting adults, wouldn’t you agree? Also, I believe you’ve focussed on a non-existent correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia.

      • We disagree on redefining terms. I agree with traditional definitions.

        But, can we agree to protect the children? Even if it costs?

        ghost.

      • Ossington says:

        We can agree yes and no. Yes in theory, however since we do not have the costs established, I must withhold assent.

        If we could save 75% of children at the cost of tossing 25% into the fire I (would certainly hope to) disagree.

      • I am for saving 100% of the children.

      • Ossington says:

        Oh. Well then yes. I support saving 100% of the children.

        hmm… but if the cost is the adult world which they will be growing into… that seems problematic too. For, if we protect the children at the price of the world which they will inherit, then there seems little point.

        But for the abstract notion of saving 100% of the children, it seems as though my hands are bound, and I must (unless the cost is terrible in some other way) agree.

      • I find that an interesting, and I assume post-modern answer.

        I pledged my life to protect our way of life, and I always thought our way of life meant women and children first, then the disabled, then regular men, then warriors in the rear.

        😉

        Have we really changed that much?

        ghost.

  12. Jerks existed way before the internet.

  13. allthewaydoc says:

    I have pondered much on this subject since first reading about it and watching the video a few weeks ago. My heart breaks for this young girl and for the many others who are bullied via cyberspace or otherwise.

    I agree that limiting the internet is not the answer. The unfortunate problem with many of these children is that they do things and make choices in their life that feed into the problems and the hate that they receive. This was a beautiful young girl who was obviously very insecure and desperately seeking approval and love! Other kids are bullied because they look different, they are smart, they dont fit into the “norm” and therefore they are ridiculed and with the internet and cell phones it is very difficult for the to escape it regardless of the reason for it.

    What is the answer? I dont know but I think a lot of it is on us parents! We need to stop chasing the Smiths and trying to have more stuff and spend more time with the wonderful and amazing gifts that we have in our children! If we give them the love and attention that they are seeking at home then they wont need to seek it from others or if they are bullied because of other differences than they will be strong enough to take it. Our children should always come first before our desire to have more! Just think of what a different place america would be if we downsized our living and spent more time as a family unit instead of working all day to pay for stuff that does nothing for us but give us grief and lost sleep worrying about how to pay for it! And therefore makes us grumpy and irritable and unable to deal with our childrens needs!

    America has her values way misplaced today! We value toys and status more than we value our children and their mental well being! 😦

  14. Great post… all of the malarkey online has really become just too much. These poor kids/teens are sucked into the interweb and they never have a “safe” place anymore. Home isn’t safety when your bullies can reach you at anytime. I recently wrote about bullying as well [ http://wp.me/p1CgeJ-bZ ]. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  15. vekin says:

    I wholeheartedly agree on your point here. The internet is just a tool and therefore it reflects the users not the what internet is. Openness to discussions and reflection of the cyber community is what needed, not a legislation. Actually, scratch that, it should be every community reflecting upon bullying. Internet just allows people who are cowards – and I say this as an observation only, I really am not judging – to use its anonymity to harm others.

    I have been amazed by how Amanda Todd was left on her own to deal with being bullied. Suicide is not an easy thing even to contemplate doing. The only reason she would have done it is because she have feel hopeless and isolated. How could a community allow that to happen to one of its member without query into the actual state of affair? What appalled me even more is the statements from the perpetrator who does not seems to be ashamed or remorseful with the result of his action. Really, how did we allow this to happen and not look after our own? It boggles me to no end.

    I’m really glad you put this on the internet and got freshly pressed. Congrats.

    P.S. sorry for a rant on your blog. Me and some of my very close friends had been victims of bullying in its many shapes and forms, so it makes me see red every time this kind of thing happens to a young, vulnerable adult, and nobody seems to want to start a dialogue about it. I make it through intact because I have good friends who stand by each other even when my family was unaware of what was going on due to its much more subtle form (they figure it out eventually, though). If I was isolated, I might turned up like Amanda. Who knows.

  16. Bubba & Mama says:

    Thanks for sharing, people should really positive and encouraging to each other instead of bullying. 😉

  17. Pingback: When Things Go Viral | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

  18. logan607 says:

    I think that the corresponding case of Gawker outing internet troll Violentacrez is an interesting counter point. On the one hand, he sounds like a despicable person but on the other, we find that he lost his job and has to somehow take care of his disabled wife. My feeling, ultimately, is that these bullies, cyber or otherwise, have a rationale or excuse for what they do but it’s not enough.

    I think the ease in which people can torment each other online is frightening but so too are the tools at our disposal to counter it.

    In any case, that my long-winded way of agreeing with you that the internet is it’s own best police force.

  19. callabri says:

    I think we really need to remove the anonymity in the world of the internet, as it makes people believe that they can say anything that they want without having to deal with the guilt. If we weren’t so anonymous, then maybe we would be more moral thinking in what we say and do on-line. What happened to Amanda Todd was due to the viciousness of human beings using the internet as a gateway to torment her. I feel that the internet removes the person from the actual act of bullying, which would be there in a face-to-face interaction. We should be able to write what we want on the internet, but within the constraint of keeping our morality in check. Word of advise; think before you post… much like your parents have taught you to think before you act or speak. What you say has the power to harm somebody.

    I find that the internet is just too much for younger people to have in their control. If we give them too much power all at once, they end up misusing it. I think, for the benefit of our society, that we should all take a step back from the computer and reflect on our actions. Perhaps we can have a better, more caring world that way. In no way am I trying to start a fight here, just providing my input.

  20. ryan says:

    Freedom is an interesting issue. It’s important, fundamental, but what is it exactly? Can you have true freedom without boundaries? In any society the boundaries of behaviour set up by the law which restrict certain activities actually allow people to pursue a free life. Take them away completely and all you get is anarchy and destruction. I don’t want to see a tightly controlled internet but should it be beyond the bounds of any law either? Should every evil activity be allowed? I’m not sure what the answer is, though I’m not convinced that absolutely no censorship is the answer either.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They’re good and thought provoking ones.

  21. dchae says:

    It’s a good point and good support.

  22. RE: “Out jerks for what they are, make being an asshole a socially reprehensible act.” – I understand the temptation to label bullies as assholes. But this in itself is a knee-jerk reaction. The fact is that a person who is secure, happy and confident will simply not bully others. To direct anger toward a bully will do little to correct their fundamental attitudes; it will most likely create more ‘me vs. the world’ type thinking. One thing that’s certain is that bullies don’t act the way they do because it makes them feel better about themselves. It doesn’t. Maybe they get a high from the power or the attention but that feeling goes away and what they’re left with is an even worse self-esteem. Some bullies actually lash out because they want punishment or retribution. That’s how they feel they deserve to be treated – a message that may be reinforced at home or at school. We shouldn’t ignore these situations or downplay the suffering of the one being bullied but framing it simply as a perpetrator vs. victim scenario and demonizing bullies is not a rational response. On Twitter, I noticed a high school student tweeted a joke her classmate made about needing a hall pass to get a drink and did anyone else want bleach? She accompanied the post with a #funnybutnotfunny hashtag. I replied that it wasn’t at all funny. She told me to chill out because her friend had asked her to post it and to that I responded that that didn’t mean she had to repeat it and to speak up. To my shock, she agreed that it was the wrong thing to do and we ended the exchange in quite a friendly way. Maybe if I had been a little less careful with my words it would have just pissed her off and my message would have been lost on her. Who knows? Sorry for the lengthy comment. :s

    • Ossington says:

      I hear you on the fighting bullying with bullying being wrong point. I was drawing from intuition at that point and it is an emotional subject. Socrates says that the greatest human virtue is Justice and to harm another is to harm this virtue… to in effect make the person less Just. Like the old adage ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’.

      – J

  23. I agree that the Internet needs to remain open and accessible to all. I have a daughter in the primary grades. I shiver at the future and the connectivity/dependence on social sites that the next generation is embracing. Our neighbor’s have kids several years ahead of ours, so our forecast for a future will have to include some aspects of the Internet. I hope we can be as responsible parents as possible, and will be there to help our daughter should she face anything similar to the bullying this child, and others, have faced. While there is no cure, if all parents stay involved with their children, and all adults acted responsibly and with transparency to their identity then this form of bullying and negative style personal commentary might be less prominent.

  24. Amazing post. Teens and children committed suicide because of bullying before the days of social media. The internet doesn’t need to be dealt with, the people do. Technology is fine, we just need to learn to be polite online and teach children to be polite there as well. We must stand up to bullying whether it’s wearing a suit and tie, jeans, or an ambiguous avatar.

  25. Nat Davis says:

    Very insightful! I like your post, it really made me think. And I like your usage of the common “we,” thus associating yourself also with all that is to be found on the Internet. Because really, you’re a part of it, as am I. We all are- posters, observers, lurkers, designers, hackers- whatever label you want to give, it makes up the whole. That makes us responsible, but also allows us to change. If the deplorable of this community can make such a huge [negative] difference, then maybe we can rise up to make a positive difference. Either way, the community is still there.

  26. djmatticus says:

    Nice post – thought provoking. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed.

  27. Very well said. I always shudder when I hear people talk of restricting the internet just because some people get their feelings hurt on it or other people use it to facilitate undesirable activities. If people don’t like the risks of the internet or can’t stand seeing things that might upset or offend them, there is no one stopping them from unplugging. Your analogy of the Underground Railroad is great. I’ll have to keep that one in mind for future debates.

  28. To paraphrase all the saviour/child talk, internet is simply a tool. You can get killed by a spade and you can heal with a scalpel, so use responsibly.

  29. Lets just remember that Katherine Middleton had her privacy invaded and photos taken then published by a former prime ministers’ newspapers, among others, and spread all over the internet only a couple of weeks before and people of all walks of life AND MEDIA actually defended this kind of bullying, and rushed to see the photos and participate in this horrible assault on a woman’s privacy.
    Not to defend or condone the bullies in any way, but lets all look in the mirror and at our society, please, and not just cry about things after the fact as though we are all innocent.

    • That is a very interesting point. – you can see how it does boil down to human nature somewhat. As well, I find it thought provoking that the girl from Pakistan was in the news the same week.

  30. Playing devil’s advocate here, but when we didn’t have the internet as it is today, i.e. 10 year olds on facebook and whatnot, we didn’t have crimes like the one that occurred. Don’t get me wrong, we had crimes, yes. But not like we do today. I’m just saying, create a standard for things (eg facebook used to be only given to college students – you had to have a .edu address, now everyone in the world and their brother has an account).

    • Ossington says:

      I agree that there has been an increase in such cases with the advent of the internet, but I believe a great deal of the perceived increase (which includes this increase which I am conceding to) has to do our being away of bullying, by means of the internet.

    • I teach children who are under the age of 13 ( Facebook has a policy where you need to attest to an older age in order to sign up) and their parents have given them permission to put a fake birth date on so they can join. I don’t see how that or anything that follows as a result can really be blamed on the internet. I think if my parents were giving me permission to lie, I would have addition issues that the internet would reveal and allow for, but the internet should not be blamed for creating them.

  31. In a sense, I disagree; and here’s why.

    On my blog,I posted about this as well. Over the next week post blog entry, my stats have song a substantial number of individuals finding my blog by searching for “Amanda Todd Nude Pics.”

    The mere simple fact that her autopsy photos were leaked, compiled with her parents being forced to make a public plea to leave their daughter alone after death, is more than heartbreaking. People have no cooth, tact, or morals anymore.

    I agree with the poster above who commented by saying, “This needs to be taught in schools.” Our schools are still teaching antiquated processes. They need to be re-evaluated and integrate today’s sociological aspects as well. We are no longer in the 50s, and our schools need to reflect that.

  32. nonna212 says:

    I teach middle school age kids. I see the effect that bullying has on these kids. Here is the difference between before all this social networking and now. Before, most kids, and the keyword is most, were able to have a break from the bullying when they left school and went home. Now, there is no respite from it at all. I hear from kids that things are said, photos changed and passed around through the Internet and cell phones. They don’t get a break from it at all. Plus, because of all this technology now, more kids get involved. These kids that are being bullied won’t talk to anyone about it out of fear. It is a constant battle that these kids are fighting.

    One of my certifications is in bullying, cyber bullying, and Internet safety. I agree that this is not only kids. The case that you refer to is a perfect example of the fact that adults will get in on the online bullying. They probably were bullies as kids.

    Just something to think about: teenage suicide rates have been on the rise over the past few years. The rate that these suicides are happening has caught the attention of police, D. A’s offices around the country. Personally, I know of too many in my area. Just recently we had three in one week. All due to bullying!

    Do I think we need to change Internet social networking? Absolutely not. I do believe that parents need to take more interest in what their kids are doing online. These kids today are in their rooms, with the door shut, with laptops, etc. and parents have no clue as to what is going on anymore. Parents need to check on what their kids are doing online. It is not considered an invasion of privacy because in reality who owns that computer, cell phone, etc.? The parents bought them, they own them and are allowing their kids to use them. Interesting thought, huh!

  33. Philip Rose says:

    Another interesting post. Just a question – do you find it frustrating that common sense and rationality tend not to survive in the blogging world? 16 months on, and it would appear that the Amanda Todd was not all it seemed – basically a very manipulative story put out by a young girl who was way out of her depth online. I have researched the Amanda Todd case in great depth and I can tell you that the idea of pedophilia in the traditional sense was nowhere to be seen. http://philipjrose.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/the-story-takes-yet-another-bizarre-twist/

  34. google.com says:

    Wow! Finally I got a web site from where I can actually take valuable facts regarding my study and knowledge.

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