On October 10, 2012, a young girl killed herself in her home in Port Coquitlam in British Columbia, Canada.
In 2013 this appeared on the news. I was in university at the time, and probably studying for mid-terms. It passed me by. But recently, a video called The Sextortion of Amanda Todd reminded me how sorrowing and wounding the abuse of the internet can be. This video, a documentary made by CBC’s The Fifth Estate, portrays the story of Amanda Todd, who, after exposing her chest on camera for a sexual predator, was blackmailed by them (they had a screenshot of Amanda’s exposition, and shared it to her schoolmates on social networks). This lead to months of paranoia, self-harm, and depression as she was pressured by her sexual predator and shamed by her classmates. This blog post shortly explores digital citizenship, the misuse of internet web chats and social networks, and some resources for helping our youth escape dangerous situations.
Although the internet can harbour potentially dangerous users, the average 10-18 year-old does not log into facebook, twitter, blogtv or web chat sites with the goal of making another child’s life miserable. For a large part, adolescents and teens use it for day-to-day media sharing, socializing, and gaming. In this way most kids are digital citizens and some are extremely integrated and fluent in digital literacy.
The digital realm often lies beyond the classroom and home, which places it outside of the interest zone of a teacher or parent. This leaves the student to struggle with cyber bullying or sexual predation alone. Thankfully, awareness and action in the digital realm by all people of the community has expanded since 2012. Yet, in the video we see Amanda Todd’s parents, teachers, and town RCMP officers unable or unwilling to help her navigate this realm.
For more than ten months after she started receiving blackmail from a sexual predator (who pressured her to send them pictures or videos or else they would send previous nude pictures), the RCMP were notified by family and friends. All the RCMP suggested for Amanda to close facebook and email accounts at this time. There was no instruction in digital citizenship or counselling services offered. The RCMP didn’t even offer to set a trap for the sexual predator. As teachers, parents, and stewards of our children, we have to do more. We share a definite responsibility to help them.
But there is difficulty when the older generations try to technologically integrate themselves. How often have we demonized the digital realm, acting unwilling to help because we fear that our involvement condones the use of something we do not understand (social networks, media grounds, forums, etc.)? Nevertheless, our own digital citizenship is needed, whether it be a cursory or deep awareness.
As teachers, we cannot afford to opt out of this citizenship ourselves. The case of Amanda Todd may not be usual, but it stands as a landmarks to us. It teaches us what we can do while on the front-line defence for children seeking asylum from sexual predation or cyberbullying in our school.
Be helpful. Look at some of the resources shown below.
Common Sense Education has their own Cyber Bullying Toolkit.
Ophea has a Program Guide for Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying.
Even by presenting CBC’s Sext Up Kids or The Sextortion of Amanda Todd, you can educate your class in the stories and real implications of abuse of media, text messaging, and cyberbullying on the internet.
Kelley, Mark (2013). Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2012-2013/the-sextortion-of-amanda-todd
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