By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 0 Comments
The town of Hanna, Alberta—best known as the hometown of Lanny McDonald and of Alberta’s ambassadors to terrible music, Nickelback—is in the news for an anti-bullying bylaw passed last month that is definitely not at all “a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the tragic suicide of teenager Amanda Todd”. Glad we got that out of the way. Coverage of the town’s new law has focused on its conventional libertarian aspects: i.e., can we really quasi-criminalize calling somebody a bad name? Examination of the actual text, however, reveals that the law itself is so garbled that it might collapse irrespective of its own intentions.
This is a pretty bad piece of legislation even by the standards of a province whose Justice Minister can’t figure out that tricky Charter of Rights. It sets out to define bullying as an action, throwing about a dozen different kinds of conduct into one bulging conceptual basket:
“Bullied” means the harassment of others by the real or threatened infliction of physical violence and attacks, racially or ethnically-based verbal abuse and gender-based putdowns, verbal taunts, name calling and putdowns, written or electronically transmitted, or emotional abuse, extortion or stealing of money and possessions and social out-casting.
One is surprised to discover that Hanna felt it needed to outlaw theft and assault, and also amused to contemplate the idea of a court trying to define “social out-casting”. But it turns out, anyway, that the law does not actually outlaw bullying! It instead does a bizarre half-gainer and prohibits the making-of-someone-feel-as-though-they-are-being-bullied.
1. No person shall, in any public place:
a. Communicate either directly or indirectly, with any person in a way that causes the person, reasonably in all the circumstances, to feel bullied.
To prove an offence under this scheme, one apparently only needs to show that one felt taunted, put down, or outcast. (Felt “reasonably”, that is. I would have thought the salient characteristic of feelings is that they are not reason, but there you go.) The Hanna Herald has said the bylaw is “based on similar laws passed around Alberta.” One hopes that this is not the case, but readers are invited to submit local intelligence. If we can call it that. (See also the National Post‘s Q&A with Hanna mayor Mark Nikota.)
By toban dyck - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 3:30 PM - 0 Comments
In two recent cases, employees have been fired for personal, albeit distasteful, online activity
Michael Brutsch, a Texan who worked in financial services, and Justin Hutchings, a former Mr. Big and Tall employee from Ontario, have both been fired recently for messages they posted online, on their own time.
The cases of Brutsch (Reddit username: Violentacrez), who shared pictures of scantily clad, underage girls and images of women getting beaten on various forums called subreddits, and Hutchings, who posted a negative comment on Amanda Todd’s tribute page on Facebook, have raised tough questions over the extent to which HR departments may be called on to police employee behavior in the age of social media.
“Standard HR practice is now to, without question, Google people’s names, even before reference checks,” says Blaine Donais, president of the Workplace Fairness Initiative. But it may not stop there, as human resource professionals are increasingly using social media tools to monitor the non-work, private lives of staff; a trend blurring the lines between public and private, and exposing out-of-date labour legislation, say experts.
Unveiling the identities of the two trolls (a term used to describe someone anonymously posting extreme material on the Internet meant to elicit a strong reaction), resulted in both of them losing their jobs. Most would agree the comments and posts in question are distasteful and unworthy of defense, but the quagmire is in the complexities of an employer’s ability to police employees outside of office hours.
“In non-unionized work environments an employer can fire employees for almost any reason, provided adequate notice is given,” says David Doorey, professor of employment law at York University.
Online opinions can go viral; they can incite anger and create groundswells large enough to destroy and exploit lives, or, in Amanda Todd’s case, play a
tragic role in the end of a life.
Labour legislation explicitly addressing the consequences of posting offensive, radical content online may be a solution for dealing with cases like these, suggests Doorey, but such a move would stir debate over an individual’s right to free speech.
Both Brutsch and the Amanda Todd commenter wrote and posted using pseudonyms, a step some may see as them exercising due diligence in protecting their public identities (however reprehensible their actions).
“The law struggles with a case like this, because what matters is whether the employer’s economic interests were harmed by the employee’s conduct, and not whether the employer disagreed with the content of the employee’s expression,” says Doorey.
Yishon Wong, the CEO of Reddit, went on record, defending Violentacrez against calls for his ban from the site. Wong’s argument was against censorship, and not a specific endorsement of what was posted. “If we think people ought not to lose their job for expressing their views on the Internet, we would need to legislate that,” says Doorey. “This could be done, easy enough.”
Ultimately, employees should assume their employers are monitoring their social media activity and, as such, should be mindful of what they post on the Internet, according to human resource professionals. “Our lives are public like they’ve never before been,” says Donais. ”And the connection between private and public life are very blurred. We live in a brave new world.”
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Amanda Todd didn’t do anything online that most others of her generation haven’t done. That’s what’s so disturbing.
The Canadian public is mourning the loss of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old teenager from Port Coquitlam, B.C., whose social-media tormentors dared her to take her own life, and rejoiced in cyberspace when she eventually did. Todd died last Wednesday, one month after she posted a heartbreaking eight-minute YouTube confessional about the events that drove her into a severe depression. Over 100 Facebook walls have been erected in Todd’s memory since her death, and some anti-bullying activists have called for Pink Shirt Day, a national anti-bullying initiative, to honour Todd’s memory. NDP MP Dany Morin introduced a motion in the House of Commons that proposes increased funding for anti-bullying organizations as well as an in-depth study of bullying in Canada.
This is all great news. It confirms we’re a well-meaning country: we take care of our own—albeit too late in this case. But it also confirms that Amanda Todd is now an official martyr of the anti-bullying movement, a movement bent on proving that bullying is a social construct, and that perhaps if we all love each other a little more and hug each other a little longer, it will one day disappear.
I’m of the belief that bullying will always exist because so will bullying’s parents—discord and cruelty. But I’m equally uncomfortable with the increasingly common assertion that bullying is a rite of passage; that kids will be kids, and bullies will be bullies. After all, just because something exists, doesn’t mean that we can’t limit its presence. The question is, how do we go about doing that? Unlike Mark Steyn—and anyone else with a crippling fear of political correctness—I don’t think Pink Shirt Day is a scourge, but I do think it’s largely ineffective. Why? Because nobody can see your anti-bullying T-shirt on the Internet, where Amanda Todd was arguably bullied to death.
I came of age on the Internet. Like 43 per cent of kids today, I was a victim of cyberbullying—though I didn’t really think of it as such because the term hadn’t been invented yet. I was also, undoubtedly, a cyberbully. My parents—God bless them—had no idea what I was doing on MSN Messenger and ICQ (precursors to Facebook and Formspring, today’s most popular cyberbullying destinations). When I was eleven, I saw middle-aged men masturbating on webcam. I saw a video of two raccoons mauling each other to death. I saw two boys from my homeroom class strip for me in an online chat room. And I returned the favour. In fact, this was a weekly afternoon ritual for my girlfriends and me. While mom and dad were upstairs watching Frasier, we would be in the basement “exploring” the Internet. Sure, our parents checked in every once in a while (the sound of their footsteps leaving us more than enough time to close the page and delete the history) but it was when we went out, to the movies or a party, that they checked in with greater frequency and angst. “When will you be home?” they’d ask again and again, when what they probably should have been asking was, “Why do you clear the browser history every time you use the computer?” Or “What exactly are you doing down there in the basement?”
The public consensus about Amanda Todd is that she made a mistake by exposing her breasts on the Internet. What isn’t being said, however, and what should be said, is that Todd’s mistake is an extremely common one; one I made several times at her age—and one for which I am extremely lucky to have never paid the price.
And I’m not unique. A recent study by Plymouth University found that 80 per cent of respondents aged 16-24 “used a smartphone or the web for sexual purposes.” In an investigative piece for the Telegraph in July called Let’s Talk about (teen) sex, journalist Clover Stroud writes that half the teenagers she interviewed had “some experience with cybersex.” One subject, an 18-year-old girl named Amber, illustrates this point perfectly. “When we were younger,” she tells Stroud, “we quite often used chatrooms or MSN to flirt with guys. Occasionally this went a bit further, with people taking their tops off on a webcam, for example.” What’s more interesting, however, is what she says next. ‘I think this kind of stuff, like cybersex, happens more as a young teen, between 13 and 15,” she says. “I’d be surprised if this was something my [18-year-old] friends were doing.” Webcam voyeurism, then, is the ‘truth or dare’ of my generation—and, I suspect, will be for every wired generation to come. And the cyberbullying that often accompanies it is this generation’s version of the schoolyard vendetta, only magnified by the breadth of the cyberworld and protected by its anonymity. A recent comprehensive study determined that one out of every five adolescents has at some point cyberbullied someone else. Yet parents are usually shocked to hear that their own kids are preying on the weakest, piling on the vulnerable.
A lot has changed since I was a teenager on the Internet. Photography and photo-sharing is now completely ubiquitous (today’s teens need only look at their own parents’ online behaviour for proof). Yet one thing remains the same: despite Internet parental controls, and increased awareness, most parents still do not monitor their kids as closely online as they do offline. If they did, cyberbullying would not be so endemic.
A recent study by Consumer Reports found that 7.5 million children with Facebook accounts were younger than 13, and that the vast majority of those accounts were unsupervised by the users’ parents. Another study found that 87 per cent of kids surf the Internet without parental rules.
What happened to Amanda Todd was a tragedy that should never happen to another young person again. But the solution to cyberbullying and lewd photo-sharing isn’t outreach. It’s supervision. Where are the parents when these kids are sitting upstairs in their own bedrooms posing topless? Or posting hateful messages on the Facebook page of a girl who was bullied to death? There is nothing at all old-fashioned about parents monitoring their kids. After all, Todd’s biggest bully wasn’t really a bully at all, but an extortionist she didn’t even know. Parents need to understand that for the first time in history, their kids are more likely to get into trouble in the presumed safety of their own homes than they are in the outside world.
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 9:51 AM - 0 Comments
Can B.C. teen’s tragic story help foster needed change?
In the opening moments of the video, Amanda Todd flashes a brief smile. Fifteen years old, her hair long and curly, she is holding a white piece of paper in front of the camera. “Hello!” it says, in black marker. (The bottom of the exclamation mark is shaped like a heart.) Without saying a word, she flips to the next page in her pile. “I’ve decided to tell you about my never-ending story,” it reads. Again, Amanda Todd smiles.
What transpires over the next eight minutes is utterly heartbreaking. At last count, more than five million YouTube users have watched it unfold.
Using only her printed words, the B.C. teenager recounts the despair and isolation of her adolescence—how a brief encounter with a cyberpredator triggered relentless bullying that followed her from city to city, school to school. “In 7th grade I would go with friends on webcam,” she wrote. “Then got called stunning, beautiful, perfect, etc.” A stranger on the other end asked her to lift up her shirt. “So I did.”
A year later, the man tracked her down on Facebook and threatened to share the footage unless she “put on a show” for him. When Todd refused, she received a knock on her door. “It was the police,” she wrote. “My photo was sent to everyone.” Devastated, she turned to drugs and alcohol. Her friends abandoned her. Later, when she transferred to a different school, the man found her again and shared the pictures with her new classmates. “I can never get that photo back,” she wrote on one of her flashcards. “It’s out there forever.”
Shunned and ridiculed, she ate lunch alone. She enrolled in yet another school—and another. But the bullying and the beatings did not stop. Todd drank bleach, hoping to die. When that didn’t work, she tried to overdose on pills. “Every day I think why am I still here,” she wrote. “I have nobody. I need someone.”
Seven weeks after ﬁlming that video, Amanda Todd was found dead. After so many attempts, she had finally managed to kill herself.
Her death has generated headlines around the world, triggering the inevitable rhetoric about anti-bullying strategies and the need for tougher legislation to crack down on seedy Internet predators. Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, posted her own video, full of pronouncements about how “bullying has to stop” and “everyone needs to feel safe at school.” But it appears that everyone—from school officials to police to Todd’s own parents—knew exactly what was happening. And that’s what makes this story so tragic: nobody can say they are shocked by the outcome.
Repeatedly, Todd told her own mother that she wanted to die. “We talked about how it would make her family and friends feel worse for a long, long time. She understood that,” said Carol Todd, speaking to a Vancouver radio station. “But with mental health—something didn’t click . . . She was really sad and she didn’t like how she felt. It overwhelmed her.”
There is hope, of course, that Todd’s story can somehow make a difference. Maybe the next bully will think twice. Maybe the next victim will find strength in her plight. Strangers across the country have already organized impromptu memorials for a girl they never met, and dozens of Facebook pages have been launched in her honour. “She was very courageous and I really love that she made that video,” said her father, Norm. “She told me why she made it: she wanted to send a message out so that it wouldn’t happen to someone else, so no one would have to go through what she went through . . . No matter how many haters there are out there, they can’t hurt her now and her message can keep going strong.”
Sadly, there are still haters out there. Even in death, Todd remains a target. One Facebook user uploaded a doctored photo that made her look like a zombie holding a bleach bottle. “I hope they sell Clorox in Hell,” the poster wrote. Another said Todd probably killed herself because “she was lazy.”
The RCMP is investigating—not only the mystery man behind the web cam, but the online commenters who have been trashing her memory. “We’ve got upwards of 20 to 25 full-time investigators that are working on this to try to gain enough information and enough evidence to potentially lay charges,” said one Mountie. (Police have also set up an email address for tipsters: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One tip was quickly deemed a priority: Anonymous, the infamous online “hacktivists,” independently posted the name, address and email of the man they say tried to blackmail Todd with her topless photos. They identified the culprit as a 32-year-old New Westminster, B.C., man who—in yet another twist—was recently arrested on unrelated charges of sexual assault and sexual interference of a minor. (Anonymous, it turned out, was completely wrong. The man they fingered had indeed corresponded with Todd online, but he had no involvement in the photos that made her a target—or the bullying those pictures triggered.)
If police do eventually track down the real culprit, it will be too late for Amanda Todd. Even if she was still alive, an arrest may not have prevented her suicide. As she wrote on one of those pages in her video: “What’s left of me now? Nothing stops.”
By The Canadian Press - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 11:04 AM - 0 Comments
SURREY, B.C. – People in more than 40 cities around the world are expected…
SURREY, B.C. – People in more than 40 cities around the world are expected to light candles tonight in remembrance of bullying victim Amanda Todd.
A Facebook page has been set up listing memorials for the 15-year-old Port Coquitlam, B.C., girl who took her own life last week.
One of the largest gatherings is set to take place at Holland Park in Surrey, B.C., and attendees are being asked to wear pink.
Other events are scheduled in provinces from B.C. to Quebec, as well as several U.S. states and cities in Denmark and India.
The Toronto District School Board also asked its 250,000 students and 40,000 staff members to pause for one minute of silence today at 11 a.m. local time.
Todd committed suicide on Oct. 10 after enduring years of Internet sexual exploitation and bullying by her peers.
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 2:34 PM - 0 Comments
In 2006, a 13-year-old girl named Megan Meier hanged herself because of what was said about her on the Internet. The media dubbed it the “Myspace suicide,”‘ and it became the first major instance of “cyberbullying” to shock and outrage the world. The term, now infamous, typically describes an online swarm of invective and public shaming in which the vicious social dynamics of the school yard are amplified and rendered permanent by social media.
But that’s not what happened to Megan Meier. Meier wasn’t bullied by another teenager. She was the victim of a sadistic hoax, engineered by the mother of an estranged friend. The 47-year-old mother, Lori Drew, created a phony MySpace heartthrob, a fictional 16-year-old she called “Josh Evans.” Evans befriended Megan, flirted with her, and then suddenly turned on her. “You are a bad person,” wrote Drew as Evans, “and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life.” Megan Meier killed herself two days later.
Six years later, we are again trying to squeeze a complicated and disturbing case of abuse and manipulation of a minor into the “cyberbullying” box. We don’t yet know for certain who entrapped, extorted and exposed Amanda Todd. Individuals affiliating themselves with Anonymous have claimed that her tormenter is a 32 year-old B.C. man, and have posted documentation in support of this claim.
Whether this bears out or not, we know from Todd’s own tragic YouTube video that hers was not a simple case of high school social politics turned digital. A stranger coaxed her into flashing him online when she was 13. He captured her nude picture and tried using it to blackmail her into creating additional child pornography for him. When she refused, this stranger posted the original nude picture in places where her friends would see it. When Todd, ruined, changed schools, he tracked her down and exposed her all over again.
This set into motion a series of violent acts inflicted upon Todd, by herself and by others, ultimately leading to her suicide. Some of this abuse can certainly be called bullying.
But the full picture is much more insidious. It started with a stranger, presumably an adult, methodically victimizing a child for his sexual gratification and for the sake of cruelty itself.
“Cyberbullying” is an imprecise and easily manipulated term. A child making a negative comment about another child via email would fall afoul of many schools’ anti-cyberbullying policies. Using the same term to describe the crimes of a predatory child pornographer, which resulted in a girl’s death, is reductive and dangerous.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown