Wingham Advance-Times editorial
We would like to think bullying victim Amanda Todd has received the compassion in death she never got while she was alive. But along with messages of sympathy and caring on a memorial Facebook page that has been set up, there are some unbelievably cruel statements.
The 15-year-old British Columbia girl took her own life a few weeks after posting a heart-breaking video on YouTube about being verbally and physically bullied. She had tried everything she could to escape her tormenters, but discovered cyber bullying is not only forever, it is everywhere.
As a naïve Grade 7 student, Amanda sent a webcam image of her bare breasts to a boy she was flirting with online. In today’s youth culture, such things are considered a bit daring, apparently, but not outrageously so. That picture became the weapon used to threaten and humiliate her, to follow her even after she moved and repeatedly changed schools, to bully her to death.
The sad video went viral, and has become the catalyst for a renewed campaign against bullying.
Coast to coast, a lot of questions are being asked, including why no one took effective action to stop the cyber stalker and the vicious pack of kids who bullied Amanda. The day has passed when schools would say it was a police matter, police would shuffle responsibility back onto schools, both would advise the parents to let the kids sort it out, and no one knew what was going on with the internet.
We no longer buy that. Cyber bullying is not a police or school problem, it is a community problem, everyone’s responsibility. And the community is demanding action.
We no longer buy the anonymity factor, either. We have the know-how to unmask the bullies and perverts who think they can hide behind their computers. What we have lacked to this point is the political and legal will to go after them. That will is building rapidly, in part thanks to Amanda’s video.
We are also asking questions about what the kids are doing with their electronics. Grade school children posting pornographic images and messages? The kids seem to regard “sexting” and flashing via webcam as little different from an earlier generation’s naughty jokes and skinny dipping.
Except there is a huge difference. A pre-teen girl might believe the online “friend” she has been flirting with (and sending photos to) is a 13-year-old Justin Bieber look-alike, but Mom and Dad realize it could just as easily be an adult pervert.
Parents may not know how the technology works – this is less true as time goes by – but they know how people work, and how easy it is to fool a naïve kid.
Parents also operate in the adult world where the internet is a business tool. Companies routinely check the online profile of a prospective employee these days. Does Junior really want to lose out on the job of his dreams at age 30 because of a nasty 15-year-old cell phone photo on someone’s Facebook page?
When the kids share with internet friends, they can mean about 4,000 people, most of whom they have never met face-to-face. All those people have friends, who share with their friends… That is too many people knowing too much about a child for any parent’s comfort.
Allowing a child unrestricted access to cell phones and computers is the electronic version of handing a loaded .45 to a group of toddlers and walking away. Even if parents are uncomfortable with social networking technology, they still need to be in control. Knowing which buttons to press is not the same as understanding the legal and ethical ramifications of inappropriate cell phone and computer use.
Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind is why any person, child or adult, would spout vicious, stupid garbage to or about another person – including a dead child – on the internet.
It seems the anonymity offered by the internet that some claim is necessary for open and honest dialogue has allowed certain types of people to routinely fire off whatever venomous nonsense their warped little minds find entertaining – the kind of thing that would get them sued, incarcerated or hospitalized if they put their name on it.
They will never do that by choice. Like all bullies, the ones who use the internet to victimize are cowards. Remember what happened with the school yard thug who picked on little kids, the moment someone’s older brother showed up? The only way to end the cyber bullies’ reign of terror is to level the playing field. Root them out of their electronic lairs and hold them responsible for what they say. We cannot allow them to keep playing their cruel games, by their own rules, at the expense of our kids.