Years of cyberbullying drove teen to take her life

Amanda Todd, 15, killed herself after years of abuse, primarily through social media. Now her alleged chief tormentor faces death threats. Tim Jones reports on the double-edged sword of social media life

The horror began with three simple words.

A paedophile contacted 12-year-old Canadian Amanda Todd via a webcam and called her “stunning, beautiful, perfect”.

The flattery was used to convince the child to reveal her breasts. Three years later, after a litany of online abuse, psychological torture, a descent into alcohol and drugs, and the consumption of bleach during a botched suicide attempt, Amanda is dead.

She took her life last week after uploading her story to YouTube.

“I can never get that photo back,” she wrote. “It’s out there forever.”

Since then the name of a man has begun to widely circulate the internet. This 32-year-old man is alleged to be her chief tormentor, the man who tried to blackmail her after she undressed on the webcam, and the man who made it his purpose to destroy her life.

What’s more, it is the loose collective of online “hacktivists” known as Anonymous, who have released the name of the man they say is from New Westminster, British Colombia. It listed an address, email address, and other personal information supposedly belonging to the man.

The release of his name prompted a flurry of online comments — even the creation of Facebook pages — threatening his life.

That man’s mother said the family has been subjected to a “lynch-mob” mentality and urged the public to let the police do their investigation.

“It’s really dangerous to throw out names when you don’t know,” she told Postmedia News, at times breaking into sobs. “This is doing more harm than good.”

Her comments echoed a statement put out by police that said the investigation into Amanda’s death had been hampered due to investigators having to respond to “unfounded” allegations and internet rumours.

The 15-year-old girl from Port Coquitlam died by suicide shortly after posting a YouTube video in which she described her years as a victim of bullying.

It started in Grade 7 when she flashed her breasts in front of a webcam, she said. The person on the other end of the webcam started to blackmail her.

After refusing to “put on a show” for him, a year later he emailed the pictures to her friends and family, and created a Facebook page using her breasts as the profile picture.

Instead of being consoled by her classmates, she was targeted by bullies who dubbed her “porn star”.

Many months of unhappiness followed and in a bid to make a new start, Amanda switched schools. But, as she told via her YouTube video, the experience had already triggered depression and an anxiety disorder.

She was rattled and soon turned to drink and drugs to block out the feelings.

No matter how much cannabis she smoked or alcohol she drank, nothing could block one other thing destroying her life — social media.

So vulnerable already, her stalker reappeared into her life and again revealed the pictures to her new schoolmates. Cue more bullying, derision, and isolation instead of comfort or the care she so desperately desired.

In yet another twist, social media caught up with her again, resulting in both psychological and physical damage.

She admits in the video that she hooked up with an “old guy friend”, even though he was seeing someone else at the time.

When word got out, his girlfriend, her friends, and even the “old guy friend” himself showed up at Amanda’s new school, to beat her and videotape the whole encounter.

“(His girlfriend) threw me to the ground and punched me several times. Kids filmed it. I was all alone and left on the ground,” she reveals in the video.

The schoolgirl said she “wanted to die so bad” when her dad found her in a ditch.

She later tried to end her life by drinking bleach but was mocked online when her suicide bid failed and she recovered in hospital.

“After I got home, all I saw was on Facebook: ‘She deserved it. Did you wash the mud out of your hair? I hope she’s dead,’” she wrote. Posters suggested other varieties of bleach to try next time.

“Every day, I think, why am I here?” reads one of the white cards that she holds throughout the silent black-and-white video. “I’m stuck. What’s left of me now? Nothing stops. I have nobody.”

Shortly afterwards she decided to take her life. Now people ask whether the internet took her life, and what about the man who is accused of being her tormentor?

Anonymous say they named the right man, who was charged with sexual assault with a minor in a case unrelated to Amanda’s.

A person claiming to speak on behalf of Anonymous reportedly had this to say: “We generally don’t like to deal with police first-hand, but were compelled to put our skills to good use protecting kids.”

Amanda Todd’s death has caused an international stir, leading government and educational administrators to re-evaluate social programmes designed to help young people cope with cyberbullying.

Cheryl Quinton, spokeswoman for the Coquitlam School District, said: “We typically, as a school district, don’t talk about such deaths but with the family’s endorsement we did choose to do so because it is important to point out the dangers associated with social media and cyberbullying.”

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