The real world of teenage cyberbullying

Amanda Todd didn’t do anything online that most others of her generation haven’t done. That’s what’s so disturbing.

by Emma Teitel

Facebook

The Canadian public is mourning the loss of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old teenager from Port Coquitlam, B.C., whose social-media tormentors dared her to take her own life, and rejoiced in cyberspace when she eventually did. Todd died last Wednesday, one month after she posted a heartbreaking eight-minute YouTube confessional about the events that drove her into a severe depression. Over 100 Facebook walls have been erected in Todd’s memory since her death, and some anti-bullying activists have called for Pink Shirt Day, a national anti-bullying initiative, to honour Todd’s memory. NDP MP Dany Morin introduced a motion in the House of Commons that proposes increased funding for anti-bullying organizations as well as an in-depth study of bullying in Canada.

This is all great news. It confirms we’re a well-meaning country: we take care of our own—albeit too late in this case. But it also confirms that Amanda Todd is now an official martyr of the anti-bullying movement, a movement bent on proving that bullying is a social construct, and that perhaps if we all love each other a little more and hug each other a little longer, it will one day disappear.

I’m of the belief that bullying will always exist because so will bullying’s parents—discord and cruelty. But I’m equally uncomfortable with the increasingly common assertion that bullying is a rite of passage; that kids will be kids, and bullies will be bullies. After all, just because something exists, doesn’t mean that we can’t limit its presence. The question is, how do we go about doing that? Unlike Mark Steyn—and anyone else with a crippling fear of political correctness—I don’t think Pink Shirt Day is a scourge, but I do think it’s largely ineffective. Why? Because nobody can see your anti-bullying T-shirt on the Internet, where Amanda Todd was arguably bullied to death.

I came of age on the Internet. Like 43 per cent of kids today, I was a victim of cyberbullying—though I didn’t really think of it as such because the term hadn’t been invented yet. I was also, undoubtedly, a cyberbully. My parents—God bless them—had no idea what I was doing on MSN Messenger and ICQ (precursors to Facebook and Formspring, today’s most popular cyberbullying destinations). When I was eleven, I saw middle-aged men masturbating on webcam. I saw a video of two raccoons mauling each other to death. I saw two boys from my homeroom class strip for me in an online chat room. And I returned the favour. In fact, this was a weekly afternoon ritual for my girlfriends and me. While mom and dad were upstairs watching Frasier, we would be in the basement “exploring” the Internet. Sure, our parents checked in every once in a while (the sound of their footsteps leaving us more than enough time to close the page and delete the history) but it was when we went out, to the movies or a party, that they checked in with greater frequency and angst. “When will you be home?” they’d ask again and again, when what they probably should have been asking was, “Why do you clear the browser history every time you use the computer?” Or “What exactly are you doing down there in the basement?”

The public consensus about Amanda Todd is that she made a mistake by exposing her breasts on the Internet. What isn’t being said, however, and what should be said, is that Todd’s mistake is an extremely common one; one I made several times at her age—and one for which I am extremely lucky to have never paid the price.

And I’m not unique. A recent study by Plymouth University found that 80 per cent of respondents aged 16-24 “used a smartphone or the web for sexual purposes.” In an investigative piece for the Telegraph in July called Let’s Talk about (teen) sex, journalist Clover Stroud writes that half the teenagers she interviewed had “some experience with cybersex.” One subject, an 18-year-old girl named Amber, illustrates this point perfectly. “When we were younger,” she tells Stroud, “we quite often used chatrooms or MSN to flirt with guys. Occasionally this went a bit further, with people taking their tops off on a webcam, for example.” What’s more interesting, however, is what she says next. ‘I think this kind of stuff, like cybersex, happens more as a young teen, between 13 and 15,” she says. “I’d be surprised if this was something my [18-year-old] friends were doing.” Webcam voyeurism, then, is the ‘truth or dare’ of my generation—and, I suspect, will be for every wired generation to come. And the cyberbullying that often accompanies it is this generation’s version of the schoolyard vendetta, only magnified by the breadth of the cyberworld and protected by its anonymity. A recent comprehensive study determined that one out of every five adolescents has at some point cyberbullied someone else. Yet parents are usually shocked to hear that their own kids are preying on the weakest, piling on the vulnerable.

A lot has changed since I was a teenager on the Internet. Photography and photo-sharing is now completely ubiquitous (today’s teens need only look at their own parents’ online behaviour for proof). Yet one thing remains the same: despite Internet parental controls, and increased awareness, most parents still do not monitor their kids as closely online as they do offline. If they did, cyberbullying would not be so endemic.

A recent study by Consumer Reports found that 7.5 million children with Facebook accounts were younger than 13, and that the vast majority of those accounts were unsupervised by the users’ parents. Another study found that 87 per cent of kids surf the Internet without parental rules.

What happened to Amanda Todd was a tragedy that should never happen to another young person again. But the solution to cyberbullying and lewd photo-sharing isn’t outreach. It’s supervision. Where are the parents when these kids are sitting upstairs in their own bedrooms posing topless? Or posting hateful messages on the Facebook page of a girl who was bullied to death? There is nothing at all old-fashioned about parents monitoring their kids. After all, Todd’s biggest bully wasn’t really a bully at all, but an extortionist she didn’t even know.  Parents need to understand that for the first time in history, their kids are more likely to get into trouble in the presumed safety of their own homes than they are in the outside world.




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The real world of teenage cyberbullying

  1. My friends and i think the educational system and social service had failed Amanda; how could a child, who had changed school many times and abused herself, not noticed by the teachers and provided her more support. If the social service and schools had communicate better and worked harder, Amanda could be saved!

    • The druggies, like the sex perverts, can only assure an ever increasing profit from the trade for their wares by first molesting the minds of the young and then molesting their bodies after…

      This leftist ideology in the schools, in society, and in the media says nobody is responsible for what they do, it is always someone else.

      -

      Example:

      President Obama blames the death of US Ambassador Stevens on a damn YouTube video instead of explaining why the embassy wasn’t protected by soldiers.

      -

      This girl had other problems…

      Probably the crowd she had for a peer group and smoking marijuana, or other drugs.

      Nobody in this world is responsible for your actions but you.

      This whole media mania surrounding Farce-book on everything from garbage collection to pedicures is ridiculous…

      Maybe Farce-book should be sued for vicarious liability in a wrongful death lawsuit?

      The media mania surrounding this girl’s suicide is equally as stupid, it ignores the root causes of her insecurities and self-hatred:

      Peer pressures like pot smoking or drugs, lousy liberal schools, lousy liberal teachers, and everyone wanting to be a psychotic movie star in Hollywood… just look at the lead stories in this paper!

      • mothers and fathers need to be more present in their children’s lives, PERIOD. Children should not have to compete with an electronic gadget to get parent’s attention. These are the results of the women’s (liberation???) movement, and, evolution. Children ended up being at the end of the list of priorities

    • Yes I agree with you 100%. I am studying to become a CYW (child and youth worker) and that is what I said the first time I heard about Amanda and saw the YouTube video. What I don’t understand is YouTube is an international site there is no way that a social worker or community worker or even a CYW didn’t see this video, and even if they did they knew what the out come would be if they didn’t get her any help. To make it short just like you said. Schools, hospitals and social workers fails her.

      • and, her PARENTS….., who failed her big, big time, they are the RESPONSIBLE ONES!!!!

    • The educational system didn’t fail her, it’s there to educate a child, not raise it.

      Her parents and friends failed her. They may have loved her, they may have wanted to protect her, but they ultimate failed her.

      That said, the actual blame doesn’t rest with her parents and friends who failed her either, the blame lies solely on the backs of the vicious little twerps who hounded her to death. A lot of (most) young teens are borderline psychopaths (in the clinical sense), empathy still has to be learned.

  2. Did she ever talk to her parents? Did she say “Mom/Dad, there’s something wrong.”
    Bullying of any fashion is wrong, but choices are always present. She could have dealt with this in many other ways but chose what she decided to do.
    I was bullied all my life… but did I kill myself? Clearly not.

    • Given that the police had become involved at one point, I’d wager yes.

    • anyone who is indifferent but supposedly suffered the same didn’t live Amanda’s life though… don’t assume others go through life with whatever tools you were given to deal..
      you’re saying she should of talked to her parents… it’s highly likely they themselves were difficult people to communicate with. with the expectations some teens are given, i find it’s a marvel some come out alive.

      living with the kind of ostracized environment she was in, was highly unnatural – and i fully agree with mink2 above — it takes a village to raise a child…

      why do people think kids should just up and raise themselves in these sad scenarios when they needed others the most? something isn’t right here…

  3. I think we all need to take action against bullying. the first us as parents. I use software that enables sassreport see my daughter’s activity on the Internet and now detect if you are being harassed in the networks. greetings

  4. This comment was deleted.

    • No. This is about bullying that happened following a crime. These are not mutually exclusive. There should be a court hearing. And a moral crusade. And parental education. And some navel-gazing by parents and educators about whether they are a solution to or part of the problem.

      • I’m sorry, what? I’m a little confused, because it sounds like you’re saying ‘These are mutually exclusive. These aren’t mutually exclusive’ one after the other like a parrot with cognitive dissonance or something.
        Indeed, they aren’t mutually exclusive. The bullying happened BECAUSE of a crime. Like the article says, what she did was by no means unique; girls her age generally get away with similar behaviour without getting shamed and harassed to death, so it stands to reason this never would have gotten as far as it did without some psycho tracking her every move and fanning the flames as she went. This is what those in scientific professions refer to as a ‘confounding variable’. However extensive it can be in the age of the internet, schoolyard bullying can still only go so far without the active assistance of an outside element.

        Not that this fact will stop people from turning her into a poster-child martyr for another well-intentioned yet toothless anti-bullying campaign against social media that will ultimately accomplish nothing but unnecessary inconvenience for all those involved.

        • You seem to be saying it is OK to bully if given an excuse such as given to them by the cyber stalker, again minimizing the actions of the bully. “The bullying happened BECAUSE of a crime” The bullying happened because the bullys are just that bullys and they look for vulnerable people to humiliate to make themselves feel better about themselves. What is the excuse you would give if they did this to other kids which some of them likely have? How can you reason that this would have not happened without the cyber stalker? You have no idea what impact the bulllying had on her decision to take her own life and you should not pretend to know so. Many other kids have taken their lives without a cyber stalker being involved in their bullying. As for Facebook and myself being a “local” with a daughter the same age, I know some of the posts that were published after her death and to think that there are people in this world with the mentality they displayed is extremely concerning. I am a little biased when it comes to this because I hate Facebook.

          If she becomes the poster child for “anti bullying” so what? If her story helps prevent one child from taking thier own life then this is what I call a “success”. A child’s life saved is not “toothless” or “inconvenient” unless your are Bill Maher. A scientific theory is not needed to know that.

    • Farce-book should be sued for vicarious liability in a wrongful death lawsuit…

      • You mean the book of crazy faces.

      • the internet is a powerful tool, too powerful for children

    • You are absolutely correct but wrong at the same time, bullying is a huge contributing factor in this situation. This girl was terrorized by a pedophile with intent and it is a crime that needs to be investigated and prosecuted. Amanda was a little girl who also had some learning difficulties as reported by her mother in an interview with the Vancouver Sun last week. This combined with the terrorism, bullying, however it was done all made her vulnerable. Bully’s always attack the weak and vulnerable because they have no self confidence themselves and are simply scared little kids in their hearts. Amanda was shunned and bullied by her pier group as a result of the actions of this pedophile. The bullies made a massive contribution to the tragic end result as evidenced by her video so how you can say it is not about bullying is absolutely baffling. Facebook allows these cowards to freely bully anyone without ramifications and I feel they need to take some accountability also. The parents did all they could but they can only do what they can do and use the resources that are available which they did. This circumstance was a result of many different factors and all need to be reviewed and changed so we do not have any more situations like this. Only a bully would try to minimize the impact that the bullying had on the Amanda.

      • ‘Facebook allows these cowards to freely bully anyone without ramifications’? What? Correct me if I’m wrong, but last time I checked facebook is pretty much one of the few places on the internet where you are kind of held accountable for your actions. Y’know, as it is a site where you post under your own name and include wads of personal information in your profile. You are right in the sense that this was basically the modern equivalent of a mob stoning, but at the same time it’s important to remember that the mob was intentionally riled up and directed for an express purpose by one individual in the first place. Unless this exact scenario is replicated specifically, your kids aren’t under the same sort of threat. It couldn’t hurt to educate kids a little more about what sort of conduct is acceptable with other people, but this isn’t a call for yet more harmful helicopter parenting.

  5. Its disgusting that she is getting so much post death publicity. Her choices lead her to this, where is the outcry for many more non good looking kids who have been bullied to death. My heart hurts for her family but get real…. If she was ugly, a loser, or a geek and she didnt expose herself and do what she did, then the most she would have gotten was an obituary in the local newspaper.

    • don’t fall to the illusion that pretty people have it better or easier…

    • How mean to the less fortunate!

  6. Thanks again for getting it all wrong you people just don’t have a clue. You can’t understand what this girl was going to thru. Your a bunch of morons talk is cheap you generalize too much she was a unique person. Not everyone reacts to bullying the same and there’s a no formula, that works for everyone we internalize things that happen so different and as far as those Internet assholes who made lite of this should be looking for over their own shoulder never know who’s got your number paybacks are a birch. PISSED OFF FATHER OF 2 DAUGHTERS AGE 23 AND 24 WHO KNOWS THAT MY GIRLS WERE BOTH UNIQUE.

  7. It is awful how many people say it’s her own fault. Ya she made a mistake, but she was young, and we all make mistakes. She wanted to be liked and accepted, which is hard these days with the way the younger generation is. Kids these days are so horrible! And parents seem to care less and less. It makes me sick thinking about how disrupted the youth is today. When I was a kid, I was not allowed to act the way they do today or I’d get in shit. And even if you don’t do anything to provoke people to harass you, they still will, because they have nothing better to do. There will always be those assholes who only want to hurt people. This guy blackmailed her, then stalked her finding out where she moved and who her friends were… That is the sick person who should be judged and ridiculed! Blaming Amanda for the whole thing just makes it seem like it’s okay for people to act like that jerkoff. I can keep going, but I think my point is made.

  8. Cyber bullying does not exist, it was invented by the media. You don’t have to run a facebook account under your real name. In fact, nobody should since Facebook is just going to steal your personal data and sell it to 3rd party advertisers and data miners anyways. If you want to avoid ‘Cyber bullying’ simply delete your facebook and other social media and use an alias on Twitter, your friends already know who you are.

    That some perv stole her topless pics and posted them everywhere wasn’t the end of the world either. That happened to plenty of girls in my school and they all laughed it off. This girl could’ve easily phone the cops and had whoever the perv was arrested for underage noodz even if he was using a lowsec VPN or proxy

    As for people vandalizing ridiculous facebook memorial pages this is nothing new look up the kid who killed himself in the US when he lost his Ipod and what ppl did to his memorial.

    This girl also copied her video of the ‘My Secrets’ videos on youtube. Yeah look up some of those videos and find girls with actual horrible lives like surviving molestation and their parents trying to kill them. Amanda’s biggest concern was: some guy has my pics from Grade 7 and my b/f has another girlfriend who is mad at me for screwing up their relationship. Pretty weak list of ‘bullying’… a love triangle fallout, tiny schoolyard fight and elementary school nudes. Sounds like chemical brain imbalance too bad her parents didn’t get her proper psych help

  9. This is not good news, but nor is it new news. Canadians need to stand up and act on this issue! This is not the first time, and shall certainly not be the last. ACTION!

  10. Instead of blaming this horrible tragedy on this little girl and making derogatory comments about her parents, how about trying to find some solutions for the kids who are still in danger out there of doing the same thing. .

    Kids will confide in other kids a lot sooner than they will in adults.
    There is at least one high school in B. C. that has in place a “rescue” group of volunteer Student Peer Counselors for teens who are having trouble in their lives. This group of Student counselors is trained and supervised by professional Counselors. There is a room in the school where the kids can talk privately to them, and there are group meetings where the kids can share their experiences and know they are not alone.

    Help lines are available 24 hours a day through this group too. Because pain just doesn’t stop at the end of a school day.

    Amanda Todd had support from her school, teachers, and certainly from her parents, police were involved too, but she had NO support from her peers.

    This is where a peer counselor could step in, to listen, to encourage, and help break the pattern of loneliness. Mixing with other kids who are having troubles could also help to ease their pain and suffering, and help them gain some strength.

    It’s not easy to get through adolescence. But there are many really good kids out there too, and they could be standing by ready to talk to the kids that are still out there suffering. Our hearts break for these children, .and we must find some way to help them.

  11. Another incident that goes on to show that parents need to get more proactive about watching what kids do online privately. I personally use a free app called Qustodio that helps me watch the profile pictures of everyone my son talks to on Facebook. With apps like these, I am sure we can safeguard our kids a little bit. You can Google it for more info.

  12. This was a terrible article.. “Bullying a rite of passage” are you kidding me???

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  16. man bolling suckes

  17. allright ppl prizon suckes so dont do nbab stuff allright if you bully ppl allot they might start bulling ather ppl

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