Internet trolls mock bullying victim

A screen grab from a video posted on YouTube by a user named Amanda Todd  titled My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm. - YouTube
A screen grab from a video posted on YouTube by a user named Amanda Todd titled My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm.
— image credit: YouTube

Facebook pages created to memorialize suicide victim Amanda Todd have fallen prey to Internet trolls and cyberbullies, who are openly mocking the 15-year-old girl for taking her own life after she was tormented by bullies.

Dozens of Internet forums have also taken to posting offensive pictures making light of Todd’s situation.

One user named Trevor Corey Wayne Mustatia, from Grand Forks, B.C., mocked Todd’s previous attempt to commit suicide.

“lol [sic] she tried to kill herself with bleach, shes an attention whore who accidentally went to far and actually succeeded in killing herself,” Mustatia posted to a Facebook page titled “RIP Amanda Todd.”

That same page also featured a comment from a user named “Speedycat” who said Todd “got what she deserved.”

Todd’s suicide has been a popular topic on the Internet forums 4chan and Reddit, where users have posted photoshopped pictures of the teen drinking bleach.

Lower Mainland RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Peter Thiessen said police are monitoring the ongoing online harassment, which is taking a toll on the Todd family.

“They are pleading with the public and pleading with the youth to please stop posting these inappropriate comments,” he said. “They are trying to grieve the loss of their daughter … these comments are revictimizing the family.”

Todd, who grew up in Maple Ridge, committed suicide last week after posting a video online a month earlier detailing years of bullying she endured. In the video, The former Westview secondary student describes how she was bullied online and at school, and was being blackmailed by a stranger online to provide nude photos.

Wanda Cassidy, an SFU education professor and an expert in cyberbullying, said the anonymity of the Internet has led to the proliferation of online bullies and Internet trolls.

“Bullies used to be on the playground and you used to know who it is that was bullying you,” she said. “Now bullies can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet, and the act in an incredibly vicious way, with no repercussions.”

Because cyberbullies don’t see their victims face-to-face, they don’t see the impact their words and actions have on their victim, Cassidy added.

In the U.K., however, lawmakers have been successful in exposing online trolls, and bringing them to justice.

In June, the UK High Court ruled that Facebook must disclose the names, email addresses, and Internet protocol (IP) addresses used to determine a computer’s location, to lawyers pursuing online bullies who tormented a British mother.

Earlier this month, English teen Matthew Woods, 19, was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail after posting offensive and sexually explicit comments online about a pair of girls who had been reported missing and feared dead.

Cassidy said Canada needs to enact legislation to give police the ability to pursue and charge cyberbullies.

“The legal system is always far behind where society is going,” said Cassidy. “It needs to catch up.”

While new laws may be able to help curb harassment online, more needs to be done to prevent all manner of bullying behaviour.

Many bullies lack empathy, and young people in particular have difficulty understanding the consequences of their actions, said Cassidy.

“There seems to be an element of society that enjoys hurting people,” she said. “But they are learning this behaviour somewhere.”

One of the most high profile examples of bullying takes place almost daily in the House of Commons.

“Parliamentarians are some of the worst bullies, just look at the way they talk to each other,” said Cassidy. “What are we modeling as adults in society? We have to look at ourselves. We all have to take responsibility.”

Thiessen acknowledged that bullying ranks second, behind substance abuse, for youth issues identified as concerns by the RCMP.

He added that everyone in the community has a role in helping to keep schools bully free and to report any acts of bullying or assist those who are victims of bullying.

Parents should always try to keep open lines of communication with their children so they are comfortable coming forward if they are being bullied at school.

A number of resources are available to youth and their parents through the website. These include facts on what bullying is, why people bully and who they target and how parents can deal with their child, whether they are being bullied or are the ones doing the bullying.

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