Amanda Todd's suicide: Should Anonymous have outed her alleged tormenter online?

Oct 17, 2012

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by after a week away. We'll start at 2, but since my intro is rather long today, I'm posting it early.

 

To start: You have, by now, seen the Binders Full of Women meme prompted by Mitt Romney's quote from last night's presidential debate. I think it's just brilliant, from a procedural standpoint if nothing else. The tumblr was created within minutes of the line being spoken. The original image was nothing special -- the creator obviously intended it to be an initial offering, prompting others to best it. The following images built on each other, entwining with other pop culture moments from the year. My favorite is the exchange between President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Texts-From-Hillary style.

On a much more somber note. You might have read, last week, about Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager who committed suicide after months of online torment from -- mostly -- one guy. Before her death, she had posted on YouTube a silent eight-minute account of her ordeal, which included switching schools twice, self-harm, and at least one other suicide attempt.

 

Yesterday, the Internet group Anonymous found and posted the alleged identity of her online tormenter. They say he is a 32-year-old man from British Columbia. I won't post the name here, but it's readily Googleable.

 

Now. On this chat we've talked several times about vigilante justice on the Internet, and whether it's right or wrong. It's always dangerous, and there's always a chance that the wrong person is being targeted. But in this particular case, I've seen more people support Anonymous than in any other case I can remember. First, I'm curious to know your feelings about it.

 

Next, I'm curious to know if there was anything that would have changed your feelings about it. Which of the following factors might alter your perspective?

 

a) The age of the alleged bully.

b) The aged of the victim.

c) The Internet track record of the alleged bully -- i.e. whether this sort of thing had happened before.

d) The duration of the bullying.

e) etc. etc.  I could go on with specific examples, but I'm really interested in discussing what particularly triggers our desire for -- and approval of -- vigilante justice.

"Binders full of women" is so last century. A 21st century candidate has a Pinterest board full of women.

No no. A Pinterest board is just not as funny in this context. The line was far more amusing because a binder is a concrete thing, rather than a virtual space.

I am offended that the bindersofwomen meme is so funny today - not. These debates are supposed to offer us insight, not gag lines. I am an unemployed single mom (foreclosure pending) and don't know or care if I am in some binder. But I am not a laff line, for sure. Get a grip, net jokers.

Thanks for writing. I disagree with your assessment of what's going on. You seem to feel -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that the Internet is making fun of you and people in your position. I read it as exactly the opposite: The people who created the Binders Full of Women meme found something in Mitt Romney's delivery or messaging to be offensive or disturbing. They did not create the meme to make fun of -you,- but rather to comment on the statement.

 

I also disagree that treating an issue seriously is the only way to take it seriously. Sometimes treating it with humor is how we arrive at truths.

On the internet bullying case, I wonder how it is that the police weren't involved with this case? He was apparently blackmailing her with what could certainly be construed as child porn. Apparently her family and many other people knew about the situation. Did no one call the cops? If anonymous could so easily (apparently) find this guy's identity you would certainly hope the police could have done the same...before she killer herself.

Good questions -- I'll admit I don't know anything about the particulars of this case. The way that I read it was that Amanda herself knew the identity of the person in question -- or that she had a decent idea of who he was. But I could be wrong about that.

Nope, not okay. #1) They may not have the correct person. #2) The person may not have done what he was alleged to have done. #3) Most important - law enforcement hasn't even had time to begin looking at this issue. Give the legal system time to work this out.

Okay. What if it were proven -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- that it was the right guy, and he did do this? What if his guilt and his identity were not in question, and this was really a matter of figuring out whether he deserved it, not a matter of being sure it was the right guy?

For me, identifying the 32-year-old who repeatedly harassed a teenager is A-OK. Yes, there's the possibility that they misidentified (did they? Because that would be horrible). But if they didn't, I'm all for it. Just because you're online doesn't mean you get to run around being a giant (*)#$& and that there are no repercussions for your actions.

I really wonder if we're going to start seeing a huge backlash to online anonymity. The Internet began with this rollicking "Online, nobody knows you're a dog" mentality, and I wonder if we'll begin to rethink that as we continue to see what people do with that anonymity.

I think the guy in question deserves jail time and complete social isolation. That said, the problem with anarchist internet collectives is that they don't believe in social institutions and refuse to give them the chance to work. Nothing was stopping them from going through legitimate media or law enforcement channels but their distaste for them. And that means this guy may be able to get the protection and resources that Todd didn't. So I think it's compounding the injustice in the long run no matter how satisfying it may be for people to know about him now. In comparison, the Gawker reporter who outed that redditor behind all the sketchy forums? He didn't throw it out there without warning. He interviewed, confirmed the story, and made it clear that he was technically not breaking any laws. If that guy lost his job, well, sad trombone. So really none of your caveats change my feelings that the manner of the retaliation makes it less effective.

I'm glad you brought up the Gawker piece, which also ran last week. It's a stunning and fascinating story about the underbelly of Reddit. Go look it up if you haven't seen it -- by Adrian Chen.

...the fact that Amanda tragically died. I'll admit that I'm not sure how I would feel about the vigilantism if it hadn't ended so tragically. But her life ended -- and I don't feel any qualms about taking away this guy's anonymity.

Hmm. But would his actions have been any less wrong if Amanda hadn't died? We have no way of knowing how a person's genetic makeup and personality will cause them to react to a particular situation. He could have harassed another girl the same way he did Amanda, and the outcome could have been not so tragic. But that wouldn't improve his actions at all.

The least surprising fact in the whole story is that it was yet another Romney lie. He didn't go to women's groups to get these binders. The groups (before the election) compiled qualified candidates for important positions and sent the binders to both candidates.

So long as everybody had some woman binders.

I think we all know that there is really no anonymity, even online. If this grown man (32) could torment a teenaged girl *to death*, is it really such a bad thing that his identity is known? Is this reale vigilantism? Shouldn't we all be responsible for our actions once we reach legal adulthood?

Well -- we are responsible for our own actions. It's just that we've set up a sort of societal compact where the way we're held responsible is by going through the legal system, and potentially going to trial. If that had happened and he'd been found guilty, I don't think people would be debating his right to privacy. It's the timing of this that's bothersome to some.

In the old days, vigilante justice was a lot of work. You used to have go warm up your tar, pluck a bunch of chickens, gather a group of vigilantes and hunt down the offender. Because it was a hands--on experience, you were directly responsible for what you did. This internet vigilante justice allows people to harass other people with little effort and they get to feel strong and brave about themselves for "standing up" for someone. It's low-risk, high-reward for people who seek such psychological benefits. I'm not seriously glorifying old-fashioned vigilante justice, but trying to show why it's so easy for people to get sucked into this online - there is little effort needed, especially when someone like Anonymous feeds the information straight to you. The problem is, these vigilantes are usually just doing the same thing they claim to oppose in the first place.

This is so smart and thoughtful, I don't really have anything to add.

In addition to everything wrong with his statements on women in the workplace, I interpreted his awkward comment binder comment as some sort of twisted form of affirmative action...? "Yes, we have all these qualified men but I need women!" Weird.

He could have just been seriously misspeaking. Candidates have been known to get garbled from time to time.

I will sheepishly admit to being duped by the Daveonwheels hoax, so when I saw the Amanda Todd video, I was skeptical. Supposedly it's not a hoax, however I haven't seen much in terms of an obituary or real news story that doesn't just reference the video. If it is true it's so horrible.

Her mother has spoken to the media, so if it's a hoax, it's one involving a cast of many. I think it's just a true, horrible story.

That guy seemed to be only part of the problem. Obviously he caused a lot of issues, but the kids in this girl's schools need to take some blame as well.

Isn't part of the issue that we don't know how much blame anyone should take, because it's so impossible to separate cause and effect. One could argue that if the guy hadn't ever tormented her, she wouldn't have sought affection from a guy, which wouldn't have launched C, which wouldn't have launched D.

 

Of course her schoolmates played a role. But there was a long, long chain of events at work.

The first article I read about her death said she was first alerted that the scumbag had sent out pictures of her BY the police. However, the article wasn't clear about whether they knew his name or only knew that the pictures existed and had her name attached to them. There was no mention of the police contacting him.

Posting.

I don't follow politics but this binders comment led me to some articles that talked about how those binders really came about and how certain Republicans voted on important legislation (re: women's pay), so I wholeheartedly agree with your statement: "I also disagree that treating an issue seriously is the only way to take it seriously. Sometimes treating it with humor is how we arrive at truths."

Thank you.

...will this be the 21st century version of "the little black book"?

Black Book, Burn Book, Good Book -- it has a whole host of possibilities.

It's exactly how we arrive at the truth that Romney is totally tone-deaf on a staggering array of subjects.

Well. Or that his foot is so often in an intimate relationship with his mouth.

Whenever you discuss serious topics, I miss the silliness, and I feel like I'm a jerk if I try to bring the silliness back.

I do not want you to feel this way! We must find a way to do both. Maybe we need to break at the half hour and then burst into silliness for the remainder, and I'll store up the giddy posts until then.

The thing thats sad about the binders is it shows how our society cares more about gotcha moments than discussing issues. The economy is failing, neither side is willing to talk about medicare and there are multiple other issues, however its easier for Obama supporters (cause lets face it Romeny's camp isn't making these) to talk about a meme.

I don't know -- I'm seeing plenty of policy discussion, and fact-checking, and Serious Journalism just about everywhere I look. To me, this was a light diversion, not a replacement for more extensive discussions.

Exactly. Nobody thinks the "I am the 47 percent" makes fun of people on Social Security or veterans.

Ayup.

I don't think outting someone in and of itself is vigilante justice--it's simply attribution of an act to a person, preferably the right person. Whether or not mayhem follows is about society's view of the action, not the outting. It's not as big a deal to "out" gay people or misbehaving elected officials as it once was (see Vitter, David). People shouldn't do anything with the expectation they will never be found out (although they are free to hope they're never get found out), especially on the internet.

Interesting. So, in your opinion, it's acceptable to post this guy's name and address, saying something to the effect of, "Here's the guy responsible for Amanda's death" -- and it's a separate issue entirely if somebody takes that address and throws a brick through his window?

I'm glad Anon outed this guy and I don't think any of the variables you listed would have changed my opinion of this situation. The internet is increasingly seeming like the wild west when it comes to Cyber bullying, Trolling, Twitter Harassment, etc. (see Reddit vs Gawker ) The question is would the investigating police been able to handle this on their own? This isn't a federal case, i believe, so what kinds of resources are available to Local police for cases that are tech in Nature? I suspect there are very little resources for things like this and the guy might have gotten away with his deplorable treatment of this young lady. A very sad case.

Posting -- and again, you raise police procedure-specific questions that I don't know the answers to. 

I'd really rather not discuss the suicide-after-bullying until all the facts are known. What does what a 32-yr-old man have to do with her needing to change schools?

Yes -- I applaud your "lets wait until all the facts are in" mentality. But as I understand it, when she wouldn't capitulate with his demands, he sent the initial topless photo of her to a bunch of her schoolmates. Which is what prompted the harassment she received at school.

All I care about is whether the man will be arrested and prosecuted. If being "outed" helps that to happen, I'm all for it.

Posting.

Wow, I just lost 15 minutes of this chat to the Binders full of Women meme, too funny. The LOTR and Beyonce tie-ins are especially funny.

If you liked it then you should have put three things on it.

Was just trying to get in on the Fifty Shades of Grey in his own way.

If there's a way to involve binders in the bedroom, I don't want to know about it.

Thought it was pretty neat that the server for the Boston Phoenix website crashed last night after showing that Mitt Romney's version of the binder full of women wasn't true.

As a member of the working media, I appreciate anything that prompts a good server crash.

Is sort of like forming a neighborhood watch in Florida. It's one thing to do this to help the police, it's another to be a vigilante.

Sobering.

Am I wrong, but does Gov. Romney saying that he is shown qualified men and wanting to hire some women mean he has endorsed affirmative action?

You would not be the only person to interpret it that way.

Do you see parallels between the Canadian bully case and the guy behind the uber-sleazy reddit Creepshots who was recently outed in a Gawker article? I think there are solid cases to be made for both outings--the Canadian Cyber bully's prolonged campaign of torment is most likely criminal and, as long the allegations are supported by concrete evidence, then go for it. I feel similarly about the creepshots guy, who did not bully one individual but had some incredibly disturbing, invasive reddits (ie Pictures of dead kids).

There are similarities, sure. Although, as one chatter already pointed out, a primary difference is that the Gawker writer did due diligence in transparent reporting to verify he had the right person. And though he did post names and general geographic region, he did not post addresses or hack private accounts. 

Do we know yet why she didn't go straight to the police and why, if she did, nothing happened to the guy?

As someone else pointed out, certain accounts have made it seem like the police did know what was going on -- but we're not sure.

I have an upcoming sabbatical, which I'm supposed to use to complete some independent research articles. I know you're on leave now -- do you have any advice for how to manage time while working at home? (I get the impression some of your chatters are also at-home workers, so I thought this would be as good a place as any).

(Hey guys, it's 2:30, so if you want, we can begin with the nonsense).

 

Here's what works for me, but I'll post other good suggestions from chatters if they come through.

 

1) Make lists, so your expectations of yourself are clear each day. 

2) Have one or two scheduled events to plan your day around. (For me, this chat was a scheduled event. My daily list included Before Chat tasks, and After Chat).

3) Find a reason to get out of the house for a mini-break every day. The gym, the grocery store, etc. Not only will it force you to shower, but -- and this is more important -- it will help make sure your much-needed breaks are filled with healthy things, rather than watching a marathon of Criminal Minds on Ion.

 

I'll post others as I get them.

I don't think he meant it that way, nor did he mean to endorse affirmative action, but, uh, that's basically what it is.

Yep. I think that's what was spinning people's heads -- his unawareness of how the comment might be taken.

to the societal need for "binders full of women"  (For the record, the way Romney said it still sounded like finding qualified women was something people do as a last resort, not as a priority.)

Haven't had a chance to read, but I'm posting.

I can't think of a single teen I knew as a teen, or that I know now, that would go to the police over that. As adults we may see that as a solution, but certainly not thinking back to my teen years.

No -- most teens would fight tooth and nail against the idea of having to talk to an authority figure about their problems. They might fear that adult involvement would result in a greater backlash. But their parents might insist.

I'm trying to figure out what constitutes internet vigilantism (sp?). If the hackers had given the information to the Post and it verified and published it, would have have counted? It's definitely a news story. What about turning the information over to the police, waiting two days for their reaction, and then publishing? Or is it the hunt to remove anonimity in the first place? Assuming its the right guy, I'm comfortable with this -- they didn't do what an old-fashioned vigilante did (i.e., kill or physically hurt) just brought the activity to the public's attention.

Good questions. And I think the line between "inform" and "incite" can be difficult to pin down. But I think that, if we can pin it down, that's where the answers to some of your questions lie. It's one thing to offer a name. It's another thing to offer an address, a Google maps view, hacked screenshots of his accounts, and Facebook groups encouraging users to get him.

Weren't they called "Joy Books" on Big Love?

Two points for a Big Love reference. I miss that show.

Could you please try to find out if this meme was something that Mitt Romney's debate preppers and he rehearsed, or whether Mitt was ad-libbing? If it was prepared, Romney should fire the person who gave him that line!

Oh heavens. I don't think anyone believes this was a rehearsed moment. 

5) No drinking before noon.

6) When you start talking to the cats, it's time to break for options 2 or 3.

I really, really hope that we can educate our young women (and old women, for that matter) not to send naked pictures to anyone ever. PS. I'm not blaming the victim here. The 32-year-old is a sack of &*&$. I just wish he hadn't been able to get his hands on material to blackmail her with.

Thanks, and I agree. Would love to hear from some parents on how they have this conversation with their girls (and boys).

GET UP AND TAKE A SHOWER EVERY MORNING. Seriously. Don't watch TV, don't say you'll shower later, TAKE A SHOWER. This is tried and true advice that works for new parents, too.

Take a shower. 

If you have spouse/family/housemates, keep to their schedule. I get up when my husband does, and quit working when he gets home (unless I have to work late, which sometimes I do--but it's because there's work to be done, not because I slept in and now have to make up time).

I could also offer reverse advice, though. It seems that one of the great benefits to working from home is that you can learn for yourself when you're most productive. For some people, that could mean keeping a 9-6 schedule -- for others it might mean working noon til 9.

How fast do memes travel around the world, you ask? Well, early this AM I had an email awaiting in my inbox from a Portuguese friend in the Azores (isolated islands in the middle of the North Atlantic) asking me to explain Mitt Romney's "famous" binders full of women comment. I copied and pasted the segment of the Post's transcript with the quote, along with as good an explanation as I could muster in Portuguese (my second language). Am awaiting a reply, in case I need to explain further. But my point is that the line went viral worldwide in a hurry.

Like I said. The Tumblr was created within minutes. Minutes!

Really? Then why are you bringing it up. There are enough uninformed opinions out there already, don't you think?

In some cases, sure. If we were on the jury trying this case, then knowing the particulars of it would be extremely important. But we're not on a jury -- we're on an Internet chat. And I'm not interested in trying the alleged bully (we haven't even revealed his name). What I'm interested in doing is get at our broader notions of fairness and justice in an online world. For that discussion, knowing the particulars actually is less useful, because we end up debating what may or may not have happened to one person, rather than what it means for our society.

But what if you've dragged yourself out of bed and can't face the shower because you know you'lljust be grubby again the minute you change the baby or feed the cats or walk the dog or weed the grass? How do you fight that "I'd be wasting water / drying out my skin taking two showers" impetus?

Tell yourself you can take a much-needed nap  while  standing under the water?

Deadspin recently ran a story with some NSFW language about how to navigate the crazy internet waters as a parent. Some decent insights and funny read if nothing else:

Danke!

I think they're OK, just as long as they don't show your face. One of my favorite shots of me in my younger years was in flagrant dilecto from the neck down. I can still run for office by just denying it's me, but then again, why would I? It could get me some votes! (NOT making like of the tragedy and speaking as an adult.)

Is this photo online, or is it a Polaroid that you and you alone keep in your sock drawer? If it's the latter -- good for you. If it's the former, there are always ways for it to get out. Just look at Anthony Weiner's headless shots. He tried to say they weren't him. They were.

I personally disagree with this, and I think it's how everyone has to get their own routine. What works for some people (eg lists - I make them, never do what's on them) doesn't work for others. For me, working from home for 3.5 years, taking a shower every day is wasteful if I'm not going out. But I do need to make sure to work out every day I'm home, which keeps my energy level up and gives me something to look forward to (both the exercise and the break). So for the person who's going to start working at home, try the different things, but mix it up sometimes and see if something works better. Oh, and I also just read something about how it takes 66 times before something becomes a habit, so if you have a bad (unproductive) day, don't hate yourself and don't dwell on it - tomorrow is another day and you can do the work then!

Attention. The shower issue is becoming very contentious in the submissions.

An article on Slate used the phrase "recreational hatred" to describe the actions of the tormentor and I think it's a good description of when I am ok with vigilante-style repercussions. If someone is tormenting someone else (or animals) for the fun of it or to get off on it, they should be punished in whatever way possible. It's premeditated, not accidental, cruelty and should be flushed out before it escalates.

Reposting just for the "recreational hatred" term. It's really good.

I swear, I'm not normally like this, but one of my favorite actors is having a Twitter contest to see whether his character should have a beard or not when he comes back on the show (see tweets here). I'm in the #ProBeard camp and would love some extra tweets to that effect. Help a girl out?

We are here for you!

Wow- did this person get up on the wrong side of the bed or what?! We are here to discuss, chat about, etc... Topics that are relevant on the interwebs. Not dissect everything. Not be experts on everything. Monica wanted to generate discussion amongst her readers. Jeeze

They are coming from a good place. My hope is that it's a new person who has never visited this chat, and that we can draw them into our fold with a loving embrace.

I thought it was 3 weeks...no wonder I never get my gym habit to stick.

Maybe you're just  supposed to be working out six times a day so that you reach 66 and three weeks at the same time.

But what if you are squarely in the #AntiBeard camp?

I'm more interested in getting everyone to vote than in stumping for a particular bearded or un-bearded look.

Can we talk about how brilliant the Bodyform Facebook response was? So good. 

Posting.

That's why I'm disappointed that you're bringing upsuch an inflammatory topic about which not enough is yet known.

Because I think the only way to un-flame inflammatory topics is to try to have thoughtful discussions about where our visceral reactions come from, and whether or not they're good. And because I think that this is a smart group of people capable of smart discussions. And because I have moderating capabilities so I can prevent things from getting nasty.

 

And because -- as I mentioned before -- by the time we "know" everything (and really, we'll never know everything), we'll be trying to justify/explain/yell about this specific event, rather than try to answer broader questions about what it means.

I'm startled at how good Ben Affleck looks with that beard in "Argo." Not a lot of guys are equally good-looking with or without facial hair. Most of them fall into the Should or Shouldn't category, not both.

I'm just so proud of both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, can I say that? They seem like sane, talented family men -- and really, after Good Will Hunting, it  could have gone in any direction.

I've worked from home for 8 years. It's harder on days when husband works from home, but when he's at his workplace I get more done. I try to set an approximate quota for work to complete each day. Above all, I DO NOT ANSWER THE PHONE.

Posting.

Not gonna do it. I'm bitter because I can't get any followers to save my life, even after being re-tweeted by a couple minor local celebrities. It's like twitter is a kind of facebook for the cool kids and they know I'm not one of them.

Tip: If you care that much about being popular on Twitter, you will never be popular on Twitter. I don't know why it works this way, it just does, probably for similar reasons that it works this way in real life.

but as long as we're discussing tragedies about which not enough is known, why don't we all go to Center Stage in Baltimore to see the play about the speculated last days of Edgar Allan Poe, then come back here to discuss it?

I want to see this play with or without y'all. 

 

But you're right -- it's after three, and I need to go so that I can be a productive at-home worker. See you all next week.

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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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