As a sci-fi geek and indie writer, I rarely get into stories about terrible tragedies on this site. However, I couldn’t ignore this story once I came across it. Not only does it pertain to an issue which is of extreme importance to all of us – cyber bullying – there are also aspects of this case which are undeniably relevant when it comes to the fields of information technology and internet communications.
It’s no secret that the advance of technology has created new opportunities for predators to prey on the innocent. But at the same time, it seems that said same technology could be opening up opportunities to bring them down as well. What’s more, it seems that when it comes to certain types of cybercrime, hackers and authorities can come together in common cause.
As I’m sure many have already heard, a Canadian teen girl named Amanda Todd was recently found dead in her Coquitlam home after committing suicide. Within days of her death, it was reported that she was the victim of cyber bullying that had been going on for years. Apparently, it began when a man who had developed an online relationship with her convinced her to flash him on her webcam.
A year later, this same man contacted her and threatened to circulate the photo all over the internet unless she “put on a show” for him. The stranger also revealed that he knew everything about her: her address, where she want to school, her friends, relatives, and the names of her family members. Naturally, she was horrified and refused him, and the naked photo was forwarded to all her family, friends and online peers.
Humiliated and now the victim of harassment at school, Todd changed schools. However, things continued as a Facebook page was created with the picture of her flashing the camera as the profile photo. This began the deluge, and the 15-year old was harassed at school and at home for months by former friends, peers, and people she had never met. She posted about her torment online, saying how friends had abandoned her, a group of girls beat her up, and how she even tried to drink bleach to end her pain. For a time, she seemed to be recovering. But it seemed that no matter where she went, the torment followed. Invariably, she chose to end it by ending her life.
And now, in what can only be described as an act of Cyber Vigilantism, the hacker group Anonymous – the same people who brought you such things as the Occupy Movement – have uncovered the identity of the man in question. Apparently, the man is a 30-year old pedophile who lives in New Westminster, BC. Anonymous not only provided his address, but also included Google Map screenshots of his house, his Facebook profile, and chat conversations and screenshots from a “jailbait” website account supposedly tied to the man.
According to Vice Magazine, who picked up the story, Anonymous decided to act when it was becoming clear that the cyber bullying had not ended with Todd’s death. Shortly after her death, nude photos of her autopsy were also posted online. According to a statement released by the hacker group: “We generally don’t like to deal with police first hand but were compelled to put our skills to good use protecting kids. Ironically we have some good people in Vancouver who brought this to our admin’s attention. It’s a very sad story that affects all of us.”
According to CTV, the man identified by Anonymous appeared in court on Monday on charges of sexual assault and sexual interference with a minor. These charges were unrelated to Todd however, indicating that this is not the first time he has preyed on youths. The man denied being Todd’s harasser though, and pointed the finger at a New York man who was harassing her. I’d say that ranks right up there with “the check’s in the mail”, but if it leads to the break-up of a pedophile ring, perhaps it’s worth investigating. Either way, the man is now being tried for his brand of disgusting crimes, and I think he should count himself lucky. After word of his address broke, he could have easily found himself on the business end of some baseball bats and crowbars. Instead, he can look forward to prison, where his life expectancy will be slightly higher.
Alas, I should also mention that sites dedicated to Todd’s memory have been subject to harassment as well. It seems that anonymous flamers and trolls have taken to these sites to question why Todd should be mourned, or to post slanderous comments about her. To these people I can only ask, what the hell is your damage? Suicide is tragic, but suicide as a result of bullying, especially something as cowardly as cyber bullying, is just plain disgusting. In short, piss off or grow the hell up!
And I think I speak for just about everyone when I say that I hope there is a special place in Hell for scum bags like this, and in wishing Todd’s family all the condolences in the world. Nothing justifies this sort of behavior, and it will certainly be a better world when online predators can’t hide behind an internet connection and bully people with impunity. And though the means do not yet exist to police the internet as we might like, this most recent case shows that the weapons used against youth and innocent children could be turned against the predators themselves.
What’s more, it also shows that hackers and civil authorities can come together for the common cause of busting internet predators. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a slender ray of hope.
Hear that perverts? You’re free ride is over! Prepare to be crushed!