Sure, there were specific bullies, predators and silent bystanders directly involved in the death of Amanda Todd. But we’re culpable too, each and every one of us.
To not accept that is willful blindness on our part. To think we can simply wag our collective finger at the people who tricked her into exposing herself, or kicked her as she lay in the schoolyard, or that did nothing as she silently screamed for help, is ignorant.
We helped manufacture the people that committed these acts. We helped manufacture Amanda Todd herself.
The case of Amanda Todd represents a firestorm of the very worst ways that we use the internet and technology in general, of how we relate to one another online.
While there’s been much celebration of the internet as a tool for freedom, we have a harder time recognizing the sword it can be for cutting people down.
How many of us indulge in the power that online anonymity grants us, using it to criticize, attack, or defame others unjustly?
Conversely, how many of us have stood by and allowed an anonymous poster to get away with that behaviour?
More cruelly, how many of us have joined in?
But anonymity isn’t always necessary online when we want to assault someone. Many of Amanda Todd’s attackers were known to her, and openly berated her in social environments like Facebook.
How many of us have done that? Hungry for the recognition of the social echelon, we’ve let loose with a denigrating barb or a harsh reproach.
Somehow the simple fact that a keyboard and screen separate us from our victims is enough to lubricate our willingness to satisfy the cold hunger of ego.
But our appetite for malice is not always satisfied online. As Amanda Todd learned, too often blood spills from the screen to the pavement.
How many of us have directly abused another person? How many of us have hit, pushed, kicked, yelled at or simply spoken disparagingly at someone?
Again, how many of us have silently watched these things happen and done nothing?
Of course, we all recognize that any form of violence against another person is abhorrent, that society stands against it.
But ego’s appetite is difficult to sate: a punch can make us feel bigger, better, and superior at our lowest moments of depair.
Sometimes it’s just an easier way to communicate. A shout or a slap to coerce can be more expedient than a long, calm conversation to convince.
Really, does anyone ever step in to stop our actions anyway?
Then how often do we fail to consider the indirect victims of our online activities?
How many of us have turned our attention away from our children who love, adore, depend on and idolize us to pay tribute to a computer, a smartphone, or a television?
How many of us have ignored the words of those in our presence to respond to those of someone else, somewhere else?
By ignoring the people we’re with, we communicate a message to them far clearer than any words we might have spoken. We’re saying, “I’m not interested in you.”
It’s with that message the cycle begins.
The child recognizes that the adult is more interested in, more attentive to, and more concerned with something on the screen: whatever’s there is better than them.
Despairing over time, feeling alone and neglected and learning from the actions of its caregiver, the child seeks solace in the screen. She seeks the love, attention, and caring in a cold, anonymous world that she can’t find in the familiar, warm bodies present around her.
But the attention online is empty. It’s a world of reciprocal despair and manipulation, populated by empty hearts crying out for love they have never been taught to understand.
It’s there you find Amanda Todd and the millions like her, products of our collective lack of care and attention. We made her, we beat her down, and we stood by and watched as she logged herself off forever.
But now is not the time to condemn.
Now is the time to look in the mirror.
It’s time to put down your phone and turn off your computer when you’re with the ones you love, particularly your children.
When you are online, it’s time to drop the veil of anonymity and personally own the words you write and post.
It’s time to act like yourself, like a real human being online, and treat the others you meet there the same way.
And while you’re there, stick up for each other. Don’t be sucked into the easy cruelty that the internet affords.
When online, think. Pause. Think again.
Maybe go for a walk, or give somebody nearby a hug.
Recall your humanity.
Then act. Then go offline again.
If we don’t recognize our own roles in affecting the people around us – online and in the real world – if we don’t make our actions our own, the next Amanda Todd might be someone we know, might be someone we love.
Then we’ll only have the world to wag its fingers at us.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, October 26, 2012.