Amanda Todd, the Vancouver-area 15-year-old who allegedly killed herself this week after years of cyber bullying, is famous now, thanks to the chilling anti-bullying video she posted on YouTube a few weeks before her death. But there's nothing special or unique about Amanda's story. That's why it's so powerful.
Amanda doesn't speak during her almost nine-minute-long video, "My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide and self harm." Instead, she holds up note cards to silently tell her story, which goes something like this: in 7th grade, Amanda and her friends started videochatting with strangers online, some of whom told her she was "stunning" — a compliment almost all 13-year-old girls crave. One admirer asked her to flash him, so she did. A year later, the same man messaged her on Facebook and told her that he would send the webcam photos to her friends, family, and school unless she "put on a show for him." She didn't, and so he followed up on his threat.
That's when Amanda got "really sick" — she was diagnosed with depression and started drinking and doing drugs to get rid of the anxiety. It didn't help, and the bullying, which grew more intense as more and more people found out about the naked photos, didn't stop. The man created a Facebook page with a list of her friends and school, using Amanda's naked chest as his profile photo. She changed schools, but the bullying followed her there, too. (That's the thing about the internet.)
In the video, Amanda wrote that she often cut herself and tried to kill herself twice, once by drinking bleach. "I have nobody. I need someone." she wrote. But her YouTube description was optimistic: "Everyone's future will be bright one day, you just gotta pull through," she wrote. "I'm still here, aren't I?" Now, she's not.
The media loves a sad bullied hot teen suicide story, so it's unsurprising that Amanda's heartbreaking story is "trending," as they obnoxiously say. Her video has over 300,000 views and thousands more have "liked" The Amanda Michelle Todd memorial Facebook page, causing people to call bullshit on all of the people who suddenly care about her after she's gone.
Of course it's sad — and hypocritical — that Amanda is receiving more attention now that she's become a poster child for cyber-bullying instead of when she was actually alive. But it's hardly the first time this has happened. Every time a teenager kills him or herself after being bullied for far too long, officials go on about "anti-bullying days" and other sorts of anti-bullying initiatives. But does anyone really think the kind of kids who bullied Amanda would be receptive to adult-led PSAs? Moreover: Why are they so cruel and heartless? Well, kids have always been cruel and heartless. But the power of internet anonymity — the sense that you can say whatever you want online, that it doesn't matter — exacerbates the issue, as does a culture that sends young women (and everyone else) mixed messages by teaching them that the only way they'll be loved is if they show off their bodies, unless they do it too often/the wrong way/to the wrong people, in which case, they're sluts.
Instead of (or alongside) these formal anti-bullying programs — which hopefully don't just lecture kids on the evils of the internet but foster more thoughtful discussion — teenagers across the nation should be forced to watch Amanda's video. Remember that Redditor who tried to shame a Sikh woman but publicly apologized after she wrote him back/he realized she was a real person, not a soulless internet meme? Is it too optimistic to hope that Amanda's story could similarly convince teens that the peers they're harassing online deserve better treatment? That's what Amanda herself hoped — and why she uploaded the video in the first place.
'I think the video should be shared and used as an anti-bullying tool. That is what my daughter would have wanted," Carol Todd, Amanda's mother, told The Vancouver Sun. Last month, Amanda uploaded a slideshow presentation called "Cyber Bullying" on Prezi.com, in which she gave advice like "If you see that someone is being bullied, don't be afraid to tell the bully to stop doing what they are doing. Make sure to tell them that it's wrong and that they shouldn't bully other kids."
The concept of Amanda, from the grave, telling others that bullying is wrong is disturbing. But maybe — hopefully — it'll actually be effective.