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The Bullying Stops Here


Like everyone else, Ive been following the story of Amanda Todd and reading about the series of events which lead to her recent suicide. Im sure that Im having as much trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that the mistreatment described in the news stories or explained in her bullying video could happen to anybody. Amanda Todd is the fifteen year old from Canada who committed suicide after enduring years of bullying. It involves a webcam and a cyber stalker who didnt know when to quit. A month ago, she posted a video in which she told her story, in the hopes that other teenagers wouldnt have to go through the same thing she did. Im not an expert on bullying, or a psychologist. I am, however, the father of two kids, including a daughter, and have had fifteen years of experience using and building websites for the Internet. I may not have a lot to contribute to the understanding of what happened and why, but I do feel that I have a stake in not letting it happen again, either to my kids, or my kids friends. What I wanted to do is work through the series of events which lead up to Amandas death and try to figure them out. I know that I need to so that Im ready to talk to my kids. The other thing that I want is to spark some kind of discussion with readers, so that perhaps we can all work together to try to figure out what went wrong, and then see if we can prevent it from happening again. Sometimes I watch my kids use the Internet now when theyre ten and twelve years old, and I almost envy the fact that they have all of this entertainment at their fingertips while theyre still kids, while I had to wait until I was eighteen before I was able to catch a glimpse of my first webpage. And, by webpage I just mean an HTML document containing lists of hyperlinks to other pages. No video, widgets, or social media, and still very little video. But, then there are other times when Im reminded of just how complex the Internet is, and it frightens me how many things my kids will need to learn before Im certain that they are ready to use it safely. Ive benefitted from having spent my childhood fearing more traditional dangers, such as pins in your Halloween candy, or Stranger Danger, because I think that left me with a level of paranoia that, in a strange way, prepared me for the Internet. Much like my kids, Amanda Todd didnt understand how dangerous people on the Internet can be. Whether she was caught up in the moment, or felt pressured, I could never guess, but Im sure that when she flashed the other people in the chat, she was behaving differently than she normally would out in public, at school, or even in her familys living room. Stupid mistake? Sure. But, even though I think of myself as pretty saavy when it comes to the Internet, I still have to admit that Ive made mistakes and done some stupid things only because it was only virtual. Its just even more dangerous when youre younger. One of the first things Ill tell my kids is never to share personal information or intimate images with anybody over the Internet. Not only is this type of behavior irresponsible, but the reality of the Internet, people, and technology is that live video can be recorded or captured as stills, and photos can be distributed to thousands of people in the blink of an eye. Even more importantly,

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when it comes to posting on the Internet, once youve released out to the public you are seldomly able to take it back. Im not saying that Amanda Todd deserved what happened next, but what I am saying is that its just not worth the risk. All of these risks seem almost ironic when you think about how much good is actually being done on the Internet, and most of it is being accomplished by people not much older than Amanda Todd. Im always amazed by how much can be accomplished by combining shared information with a little bit of media and technology. The Internet itself is not evil. Technology isnt evil. But, like other tools both the Internet and the technology can be used to do evil things, depending on the choice of the user. As Ive said, its easy to make the wrong choice out of naivety or misplaced trust. This is the mistake Amanda made. Some others, like the creep who leaked a photo of her, choose to use the technology for, well, I dont even know if the word evil does it justice. Because this had to be premeditated. You dont just happen to generate an incriminating photo you can use against someone later. Even if it was by accident, for example if he found an image in his browsers cache, it was still something he had to plan ahead for. As unthinkable as it is that a thirty-year-old man would do that to a teenage girl, Amandas story gets even worse. Because of the photo, Amanda was made into an outcast at school, and the cyber bully who had already managed to ruin her life once ruined it again after she had switched schools by sharing the photo a second time. But, hey. At least when we think about the heinous, destructive, unforgivable things that the creepy cyber stalker did, he was at least being consistent. Whats our excuse? We can blame the technology. Maybe if the Internet wasnt as readily available, or maybe if Amanda simply didnt have a computer, she wouldnt have interacted with that creep, or done what she did that night, and she would be alive now. These are all possible solutions, but they just arent practical. For starters, not only is the technology here to stay, but kids are using it at a much younger age. When you remove the technology this is still a story about bullying, stalking, and alienation. It could have been a better story if people had stepped up and refused to accept rumors on face value, or judge Amanda for one mistake. If the legal system could catch up with technology, then maybe there would have been people who could have helped Amanda before things had gone too far. The articles Ive read said that her father had reached out to authorities, but still there was nothing that could be done. Another source said that a woman who had come across the photo had reported it, but still nothing was done. Whats even more troublesome is that this is not an isolated case of bullying or stalking. I know how bullying feels from when I was in school, I see how students at my kids school treat each other, and Ive read the comments that have been posted on the R.I.P. Amanda Todd page on Facebook. Amandas story is being repeated over and over again with different kids under different circumstances all over the country. Its the people that surround these victims of bullying and isolation that will help to make the difference.

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We are the co-authors of our childrens future, and there is still time to step up. It starts when we work harder to prepare our kids to use the Internet and to understand the technology better ourselves. Im not lawyer, but it has often seemed to me like law enforcement and the legal system need to both take a giant leap forward if they are ever going to catch up with the realities of technology and cyberspace. Stranger Danger is now a phrase that kids need to remember even when they are secure inside their bedrooms sitting in front of a computer screen, and when they are threatened we need to be ready to help. As a society, we also need to resist the temptation to jump to judge people based on rumors. No one deserves to be judged based on their mistake, because we all make them especially when were younger. If thats not enough to make you think twice the next time you hear that somebody flashed their online friends during a webcam chat, just remind yourself that when we judge and turn against someone, the creeps win. So, Im throwing all of this out there in the hopes that someone will read it and be moved to take action, or maybe Ill be told that Im totally off base. Im fine with either outcome because I started writing this knowing that it was just my point of view, and hoping that some continuous discussion will help to move us towards a better solution. One solution that Id like to propose is to give people--especially kids--the benefit of the doubt, to sit down with them and try to help in anyway that we can. Usually, when Ive done this it has only meant giving up my time so that I could listen, and perhaps share some of my own thoughts. Other times, it can be as simple as being accessible. On a broader scale, there are organizations and programs out there which are looking for people who are willing to working with kids or teens. One is Live Now Leadership, a new organization which is working with schools to eliminate bullying. Another is an organization called EduGuide which is developing a website which teachers, parents, and program administrators can use to establish a community which matches mentors with students. And, there are others out there. Amanda Todds video on YouTube should be the inspiration we need to write a completely new story that leaves no room for bullying, cyber stalking, isolation, the abuse of technology, or creeps of any kind.