Amanda Todd Suicide Highlights Cyberbullying Danger
Teenagers hang out on Facebook the same way Baby-boomers hung out at soda shops and Gen-X’ers hung out at the mall. As a result, social media has given bullies a new way to torment their victims, and parents need to be aware of the dangers that lurk online for their teens.
Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen who was cyberbullied into committing suicide on Oct. 10, is only the latest in a string of sad cases, from Massachusetts and New York to Arizona and Washington, that parents, schools, and lawmakers are struggling to understand and prevent.
“Cyberbullying is the willful and repeated use of cell phones, computers, and other electronic communication devices to harass and threaten others,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Instant messaging, chat rooms, e-mails, and messages posted on websites are the most common methods of this new twist of bullying.”
Video Chat Misstep
Todd’s troubles began three years ago when she flashed a stranger via webcam, goofing around with friends on video chat in seventh grade, according to a video she made and posted to YouTube on Sept. 7.
Armed with her picture, that man allegedly tracked her down on Facebook and tried to extort her into performing a sex show for him. He then sent the picture he had of her to everyone she knew. As a result Todd was bullied, beat up, and tormented on Facebook and in person at every new school and city she tried to move to, and she developed anxiety, depression and self-harm issues. After several attempts at suicide, she killed herself. She was 15 years old.
A Facebook memorial page dedicated to her shows an outpouring of support for Todd and others who suffer bullying. But the Facebook page is marred by continued sarcasm and cruel comments directed at Todd.
Anonymous, on Oct. 15, said it had uncovered the identity of the man they say extorted and cyberbullied Todd. The “hacktivist” group, that along with 4chan and David Kernell, brought you Sarah Palin’s hacked Yahoo! account, is known for its largely successful efforts at corporate sabotage.
Todd’s tormenter is identified as Kody Maxson, of New Westminster, British Columbia, according to the post. Since then, Patrick McGuire explained in a post on Vice.com that in-depth Internet research led to the conclusion that a person named Kody Maxson exists and is clearly linked to an online group that lurks in chat rooms, taking screen shots of people and then blackmailing them; however, there’s no hard evidence tying him to Todd at this point.
Maxson did show up in court on Oct. 15 in Surrey, British Columbia: “The man identified by Anonymous appeared Monday at Surrey provincial court house, where he faces charges of sexual assault and sexual interference with a minor in a case unrelated to Todd,” according to a local news report. “He told CTV News he knew the 15-year-old, but insisted he was her friend.”
“The Amanda Todd case [is] much more than a story about the dangers of schoolyard bullying,” said McGuire. “. . . the central issue here [is] a case of predators preying on vulnerable children.”
Most States Offer Protection
States began enacting laws to protect kids against cyberbullying in 2006, and thirty-four now have laws on the books.
“Each state is slightly different,” notes Steven Waterkotte, a partner with Henderson & Waterkotte in St. Louis, Mo. “Essentially, cyberbullying laws prohibit individuals from harassing, stalking or intimidating another individual through electronic means, including email, Facebook and the like.”
Avoiding the problem of online bullying in the first place is, of course, the best case. “Several things can possibly prevent an incident like this, including monitoring your child’s online presence and activity,” says Waterkotte. “Always maintain an open dialogue with your child and also closely monitor your child for mood swings.”
What are you doing to protect your child from bullies online? Join the conversation below.