Imagine you had the choice to educate others about their digital online presence. Now imagine that somewhere out there is a young girl who is being blackmailed to take photos of herself and send them to the predator or face the consequences. Well, you do, and this actually happens more and more often. Sexual extortion (a.k.a. sextortion) of minors is becoming more prevalent. This is the story of Amanda Todd and how her digital citizenship cost her her friends, respect, self-worth and unfortunately eventually led to her untimely death.
Amanda was in Grade 7 when she began to use her webcam and go onto live chat sites to meet new people with her friends. But even before exploring this venue of the Internet, Amanda already had an active online presence. Watch CBC’s rendition of her story here.
The video that this show alludes to is entitled My Story: Struggling, bullying, suicide and self-harm, in which Amanda uses flash cards to describe her story of sextortion, bullying and struggles with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Amanda flashed the camera while unknowingly a viewer took a freeze-frame (screenshot) and posted it to a porn site. Then the link was sent to all of her Facebook friends, including her mother. Returning to school she became “slut-shamed” and called nick-names like “cam whore,” “porn star” and asked “Are you doing this on a regular basis?” She was embarrassed and began to have anxiety and depression because of the regular bullying and teasing within her school.
Amanda and her mother went to the police to notify them that a blackmailer was asking for more videos and threatening her. The extortionist told her that if she did not send him new videos of her performing for him, then he would send the picture of her exposing herself to everyone she knew. This would be the second time, but for a new crowd because Amanda was constantly moving and changing schools to get away from the bullies. It was the second notification to RCMP in 6 months of blackmail. Soon after they contacted the police, the school was sent the photo so they contacted the police on Amanda’s behalf as a minor.
During the document the host says, “Her parents told her to stay away from the sites that would cause her trouble, but Amanda wouldn’t…or couldn’t.” Amanda seemed to have a craving or need for attention but was unsure of how to fulfill it, so it came out negatively. At school she faced problems with ADHD and being laughed at from her previous mistake, so she turned to online crowds and individuals for friendship. This is not uncommon in modern society. The adolescents most at risk for being taken advantage by someone online are those who are not able to fit in at school. They turn to social media sites and chat groups to make friends and feel better about themselves. Unfortunately for some teens they are being targeted by others who want to take advantage of young people. The host says to an officer “When you first started it used to be that the ‘creepy old man’ on the Internet was 65, now the ‘creepy old man is 25′” responded by nodding and saying “Or younger.”
“You can edit yourself”
What shocked me the most, and this was very much the intention, was when the host compares Amanda’s online stalker and blackmailing situation to that of a girl being stalked in a park. The police would suggest to stay away from the park, but would still try to find him. Here is the clincher: “Where else would they tell a teenage girl that the best option is for her to protect herself?”
A year after the sextortion started, her anxiety and depression had grown so much that she began to self-harm by cutting herself. Her bullying was so great that people would tell her they would throw a party if she died. So Amanda created her video (link above) as a response. Her mother states, “Her video was not a suicide video but a release. She wanted her story out there, especially to the people that were harassing her” (from CBC’s documentary). Amanda was standing up for herself in a world that endlessly tormented her, and she was also bringing awareness to cyber-bullying, bullying in her schools, and physical assault from her peers. Amanda had planned to get a tattoo with the motto “stay strong” to remind her of what she had in life before she cut herself again. Unfortunately, she passed away from self-harm before she got it.
After her death, 20 officers were assigned to her case. At the time that the CBC made this document, the host mentions that the investigation was still on-going, and the police made no comments. However, in January 2014, police arrested a man in a case involving multiple victims in the Netherlands, UK, and Canada. A few months later they charged the 35-year-old man identified as Aydin Coban with indecent assault, extortion, internet luring, criminal harassment and the possession and distribution of child pornography for his alleged activities against Amanda Todd and other child victims, both male and female. Click here for a CBC article with a copy of the transcript from one of Amanda’s interactions with this man and brief follow up, including an arrest.
So where does this fit in with Digital Citizenship? The better question is where doesn’t it? With this many connections it is hard to find a good place to start.
Digital Access: From a young age Amanda had access to electronics and the Internet. Her early days recording herself signing to music was a precursor of her ability to navigate online. Through her parents she was able to access the Internet on her own laptop and was then given a webcam.
Digital Communication: Amanda was navigate different sites, chat rooms and social media sites like Facebook. Any communication that occurs online or through electronics is part of Digital Communication.
Digital Literacy: When it comes to this section, Amanda was pretty literate with the sites she used, but perhaps did not understand each sites full potential (i.e. that someone could screenshot her flashing the camera), which leads into Digital Law and Digital Rights and Responsibilities. Amanda would not have rights to the image that was taken without her consent. In addition, each person is responsible for their electronic deeds and actions. Ultimately Amanda’s extortionist was caught and arrested, but this is not the case for all online predators.
Digital Health and Wellness: I think that this section fits in with Amanda’s experience because she became focused on her online self-image. The documentary notes that “Amanda was getting transfixed by her image on the screen.” I think this happens to a lot of people. We are constantly checking how we look before our image is captured to make sure it is taken “just right.” In Amanda’s case it appears that she was not balancing her online self-image and it became unhealthy for her.
Digital Security: This section is simply about taking pre-cautions and preventative measures while on electronics to guarantee your safety whether it be from personal information, banking information, videos and images or hackers.
Amanda most likely did not have a sufficient understanding of all of these concepts, as do many of our young teens. As a feature teacher, I plan to discuss issues like these with my students so that my students will be aware of the dangers of the Internet. I don’t want to create fear or prohibit use of the Internet, but I think it is extremely important for parents and kids to know what can go wrong. Speaking of parents, click here to see which apps pose potential dangers for kids that parents should be concerned about. If your child has this app, I would strongly recommend sitting down and discussing Digital Citizenship. The clip below shows teens starting to explore ideas of Digital Citizenship based on seeing Amanda Todd’s video.
“Her impulsive gesture was immortalized on the website for anyone online, anywhere”
“She knew that she did something wrong, but she also knew that there was nothing she could do anymore because the damage was already done”
“In the age of the Internet there are online predators that can make sure you pay for a mistake for the rest of your life”
“For many kids the Internet is an endless popularity contest where popularity is measured in how many likes or views you are getting”
Before you take off, I would like to share a last important message from the documentary “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd.” If you need to report online abuse please go to a site like cybertip.ca, or if you need to find out more about online predators check out cbc.ca/fifth.