FAB Asks: What does Amanda Todd tell us of Ourselves?

Following the suicide of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old Port Coquitlam girl who ended her life Wednesday after years of bullying, an outpouring of grief from around the world has flooded social media websites, with Amanda’s name trending on Twitter and a memorial Facebook page set up for the teenager accumulating more than 619,000 “Likes.”

An even more chilling discovery came in the form of  a harrowing video she had posted a  titled “My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm” on YouTube telling of her battle with internet bullies only weeks before her death.

The black and white video showed Amanda holding a series of note cards, silently telling her story which begins with ill-advised cyber liaisons on an online chat room, escalated into blackmail and bullying, which saw the teenage girl spiral into depression and self harm. The story continues with a ‘huge mistake’ of getting involved with a boy at school, who already had a girlfriend. Amanda is then confronted by the boy’s girlfriend and beaten up leading to her suicide attempt drinking bleach – a failed attempt which led the teenager to try again as abuse and bullying continued online and in real life.

Towards the end of the chilling video, Amanda holds up a note card which reads,  “Every day, I think, why am I still here?” followed by  “I’m stuck. What’s left of me now? Nothing stops. I have nobody. I need someone.”

While given the circumstances, the social media frenzy is understandable, perhaps justifiable even, away from the cyber clatter, it is worth taking a quiet minute to think about what social ills Amanda’s death highlights, as they are numerous and rather discouraging about the 21st century human condition.

Firstly, without taking away from the grief Amanda’s family and friends must be going through, one can’t help but wonder how a girl at the age of seven started going on chat rooms where men with less than honorable intentions lurk for anything from a quick thrill to a long-extended grooming process. Unfortunately, in an age where adults are pressured more than ever to go out and earn a living, children Amanda’s age and younger are being put in the care of a 15 inch monitor, and while this monitor provides a window into the global community via social media it also has the potential to let in a world of shady, scary characters. And Amanda’s case is not an exception but the norm.

Only this year the UK Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz made the chilling statement: “As one police officer leading a big investigation in a lovely, leafy part of the country told me, there isn’t a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited.” While boys used the internet to trick girls into meeting a friend only for these girls to be ambushed and repeatedly gang raped, she state, perverted men pretending to be boys on social network websites posed another major problem.

From Vancouver to sleepy hamlets of England to the streets of Lagos, this is no unusual story, so instead of jumping on the bandwagon, like so many have done to still judge Amanda – ironically even after her suicide – for her ‘foolish’ mistakes, it is time to start looking at just how well we are raising our children. Remember the age-old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child”? When there is no longer even a single parent, let alone a village, to look after that child, then how are we meant to protect these naive young girls from predatory men they come across in the relatively lawless and thoroughly anonymous world of cyber space?

Secondly, it is truly chilling to know that Amanda had made a video of her torment which ended with the words “I need someone” and harrowing images of the self-inflicted lacerations on her arms. To think that in the days leading up to her suicide, this video was online for everyone to see and clearly stating her name, it is deeply disturbing to know that not a single person alerted the authorities to the fact that there was a troubled teenager somewhere out in the world (but not so anonymously distant not to be traced by an IP address and a name).

And lastly, there is the sad fact that abuse continues to be thrown freely at Amanda even after her death with some vile comments on her Facebook memorial page including one photo of a young woman hanging herself with a rope along with the mocking phrase “Todding” and another of a bottle of bleach and the caption “it’s to die for.”

Other commentators said she deserved the negative attention that she’d received from bullies after having a topless photo posted online when she was at school. Some say it is outrageous to feel sorry for someone who should have pulled herself together, with very little or no regard to the fact that this young girl was suffering from severe depression. Anyone who judges Amanda a weakling for not pulling herself together, I urge you to read her words under her YouTube video (link below) “I hope I can show you guys that everyone has a story, and everyones (sic) future will be bright one day, you just gotta pull through. I’m still here aren’t I?”

Elsewhere on social media, an image comparing the story of Amanda to that of black

Shania Gray

teenager Shania Gray who got lured on Facebook by a man who brutally raped and killed her calls Amanda “a white 15 year old drug abusing and suicidal whorebag.” To be so callously judgmental even in the face of death? Not sure what this says about our human condition.

I believe what sets us apart from animals is not our intellect but our capacity for empathy – to empathise with the joys and sorrows of another we are not bound to by blood ties but by our mere humanity. If we are unable to muster even the slightest ounce of empathy for a young girl led astray by predatory men, or her own naivety or lack of self esteem to make it necessary for her to seek acceptance in the words of men leering over her girly breasts, or all of the former, to what extent are we above savagery? For savagery is not only in the form of beastly, brutal battering but also in the words that scathe, scald and scar as Amanda’s short life and long predicament are testimony to.

While some argue that there is too much attention drawn to a pretty girl who committed suicide when bullying got too much and claim this may encourage copycat suicides, I say it is time to draw attention to Amanda, and many others like her – children babysat by computers open to any potential predator lurking in chat room corners cloaked under the anonymity the internet provides, teenagers with such low self esteem they are likely to bare all (and not always physically) for a crumb of affection, teenagers bullied for their ill-advised mistakes in 8th grade or their braces, or their glasses, or their jeans, shoes, tees that are the ‘wrong’ brand, teenagers who daily cry out “I have nobody. I need someone” in ways we often are deaf and blind to, teenagers whose equally terrible stories and equally gruesome ends are being shameless compared by cyber thugs even after their passing. For if we do not, there will be a lot more Amandas we will be grieving for from Vancouver to London, from Sao Paolo to Tokyo, from Oslo to Lagos.

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