The Sextortion of Amanda Todd is a documentary created by CBC’s The Fifth Estate, highlighting the timeline of events leading up to the fourteen year-old’s tragic death. They weave in interviews from both of Amanda’s parents as well as a couple of her girlfriends but they also add another layer of validity to their arguments by inviting another victim of online sexortation to touch on her story. The two stories draw similar parallels: two young socially awkward teens seeking solace and attention from online “friends” through chatrooms and videos, the girls revel in the attention, the “friend” increasingly asks for more, the “friend” turns out to be a capper snapping pictures of the girls in vulnerable states and using those screenshots to blackmail them. A story that—unfortunately— has become a popular occurrence manifesting itself throughout the world and to teens— horrifyingly— even as young as nine years old.
The wild wild west that is the internet has become a tool for teens (not just girls) who do not find the attention or the affection they seek in their everyday lives. As the interviewer refers to the internet as an “endless popularity contest”, Amanda’s friends state that it’s a perfect vehicle because “you can edit yourself” into anyone you want to be. Everyone has experienced what it feels like to be a teenager longing for those idealistic images of popularity, beauty, and acceptance and so if you can mask your “flaws” online why wouldn’t you? When the interviewer asked the guest who had also been victimized online why she couldn’t be the person she was online in the real world, her response was: “Because no one wanted to be with that person.”. The frailty of finding individual importance and the desire to be loved has made the internet a very desirable asset for many people who struggle through their formative years (and sometimes later on). However, this skewed digital identity that teenagers are creating for themselves is perpetuating this cycle of cyber abuse.
One aspect of this documentary that I really valued was how they talked about a specific online predator who had been caught blackmailing young women around Canada and the U.K. and was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison. However, this man was a twenty-one year old male who the investigator described as “more like a socially awkward teenager” who wouldn’t even look you in the eye when talking to you. Which poses the question: are these online predators just like the victims, everyday characters struggling to find themselves? I might be playing the devil’s advocate right now but are (I’m not saying ALL online predators) some of these people on the other end of these sextortions seeking validation in their own lives? Do they know the consequences of the actions they’re performing or are they simply revealing in the power and influence they have over these victims?
Either way, this documentary not only boiled my blood but got my mind churning around a few very important questions: Is there a way to nip this in the bud? Is there a way— because we KNOW technology is used from a very young age– to education children on the importance of honourable digital identity and the importance of digital security? And is there a way to continue this education possibly using examples such as Amanda Todd to show how an innocent mistake can distort your life? A fellow ECMPer, Andrew Gerrand, wrote an amazing post entitled The Dual(e)l of a Teacher Parent after watching Sext Up Kids (Sext up Kids found here) stated:
…Solutions start with allowing people to have real conversations to kids about this hyper sexualized digital world that has filtered into the physical world.
What a novel idea. This problem that has manifested itself in the form of sextortion, I believe, stems from a lack of knowledge on the grave consequences of assuming an unprotected AND unauthentic digital identity. Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, had said the RCMP had responded to her information regarding predators still attacking Amanda on these websites to which the RCMP replied: “If she does not take steps to protect herself online— we cannot help.”. They were infuriated with their seemingly apparent apathy however, I think that their words hold merit. If the sites she had been visiting resulted in her video being capped why was she a) allowed to visit those sites continually after the event, b) want to revisit those sites and c) not taking steps to protect herself rather than continue to poke at the bear.
Ultimately what I’m getting at here is that as educators/educators-to-be I think that opening up those “real conversations” regarding safe digital identities, the idea of sextortion/cappers and the consequences of online activities need to be addressed. My question to you is how do you see this playing out in real life? How can we get our schools on board with beginning this type of education sooner? How do we get the parents on board with breeching these tough subjects— because like Andrew said, not all parents will be too keen on talking about these more risqué subjects.