I remember reading the news headlines and hearing the name: Amanda Todd. I never took the time to explore it until now. Before today, I avoided the topic. I have this thing against negative news.. not that I never read a negative headline. Sometimes exploring what’s going on is important to understand the environment students are being exposed to or living in. However, many of the comments I hear relating to this incident were vulgar and involved critical shaming of the girl, and placing blame on her and her family. Because of these comments I disengaged from the event and refused to explore what happened.
To be honest, I was hesitant to watch the documentary about her story. Suicide is uncomfortable for me, it makes my stomach flip whether it’s someone I know or not. Eventually, I was able to click the play button and I’m happy I did.
I had no idea what the depth of her story was. After watching the film I felt overwhelmed, distraught and brought myself back to where I felt about technology the first time I thought of bringing it into the classroom: fear and loathing. The predation on Amanda Todd by internet blackmailers was the first to make my head spin and next was the comments towards Amanda after her private photo was leaked to the public.
My most prominent thought while watching this documentary was how much I did not want my future children to have access to the online world. I felt an anxiety so great that I couldn’t imagine ever allowing them to use a digital device under my roof.
BUT…reality is, children will not stay off the internet just because you tell them not to or do not give them devices. They will find a way and use the internet despite any effort you make. Ohler mentions in his article The Digital Age, “-both approaches (expulsion and website blocking) reaffirm to students that they should pursue their digital interests outside of school, while adults are not around”.
The only thing that scares me more than youth on the internet boat is youth on the internet boat without a paddle (education).
Life is full of decisions and you better believe that children begin to make those decisions at any age. Providing students with education about how to use the internet responsibly and with purpose is critical. That begs the question though… what happens when education doesn’t work? You would be right if you said that education won’t prevent 100% of the world’s problems. Does that mean we ignore the ones it didn’t work on? Do we say too bad for Amanda Todd, she brought it on herself? I don’t think so.
Monica Lewinsky gave some perspective in her TED talk about how the digital world changes the consequences of a person’s actions. We are all human, we all make mistakes but the digital world makes those mistakes viral to a world that didn’t have much business knowing about the situation in the first place.
She describes this digital attention as online shaming. Online shaming takes a person’s poor decision and amplifies it in an uncontained and permanent way. Both her and Amanda Todd experienced online shaming so severe that she describes it as being “humiliated to death”.
Shortly after Lewinsky’s public announcement of her affairs, her mother slept beside her every day, made her shower with the door open and kept an eye on her for many months. Hearing her say that made my heart ache. The shaming does not end at these two women. She notes in her video that cyberbullying in 2012-2013 went up by 87%. That number is staggering and the suicides are certainly not limited to Amanda Todd.
With these incidents in mind, I wondered how it could be possible to prevent and protect our people from the digital horror of public humiliation. Lewinsky gave me hope. She referred to “clicking with compassion” as a way to combat the online world. Clicking with compassion means that with every click we make a choice. We think about what we are exposing ourselves to and viewing. We can decide whether to be a bystander (reading articles and contributing to slander) or to be an upstander (reporting cyberbullying, etc.).
There were so many positive notes that she made which easily shot down the anxiety festered in me after watching the Amanda Todd documentary. What happened to her was heartbreaking and gut wrenching. I would never wish this upon anyone but it is a wake-up call to me as an educator.
Not only do we need to educate on safe internet use but we need to educate on upstanding and fighting against being victimized.