Sorry no funny business in this weekend’s column. I suspect I lost some Facebook friends this week. Last weekend’s events on social media set of an interesting chain of events. More specifically Facebook. Facebook is now a meeting place for most of us at some point during the week, but last weekend, I was absolutely appalled at what I read. While there were only a handful of people saying these things, I could not believe parents in our community would log onto the social media website to be "critical" of Amanda Todd. Amanda is the 15 year old girl who died last Wednesday after being cyber-bullied, and allegedly taking her own life. At the beginning of September, Amanda posted a nine-minute video on YouTube, where she is holding up hand-written notes to explain what happened after she exposed herself on a webcam to an unidentified man. The pictures ended up being sent to family and friends, and she described how she suffered anxiety, depression and tried to attempt suicide twice. The video ends with her note: "I have nobody. I need someone."
The video touched a nerve. Like the homeless guy with the deep voice, Susan Boyle, the bullied school bus chaperone, media from around the world picked up the story. This has obviously bothered some people. Online memoriams and facebook pages built to tell her story, and fight the cause of bullying, simply invited more strangers to... bully some more. Monday RCMP asked the public to stop posting inappropriate and hurtful comments and images online that continue to re-victimize the Todd family and others. He said police are even getting complaints from young girls and adults because of those images. Not only are the comments that are critical of Amanda coming from across the country, but some came from parents right here in Westman. They ranged from parents questioning "the whole story" to some saying "her promiscuity and actions left her open to criticism." Effectively saying this outcome was somehow deserved, all the while saying "I don’t want to say she deserved this but..."
Nobody deserves what Amanda got. Nobody.
I, like many people in Western Manitoba, have been personally affected by bullying and suicide. Especially suicide. The topic is a deeply personal, hurtful, and painful topic for me. So upon reading these bullying postings I became angry and hurt. I couldn’t believe people would write these things. The wounds of a past heartache appeared and I could feel my blood pressure soar. I was now hot under the collar and had to do something about this. At first Amber and I discussed the RCMP warning on air, and talked about the inappropriate behavior and comments of this small group of Westman parents who joined in with their own critical reaction to Amanda’s story. I then said "to those parents, shame on you. Shame on you." Then I wanted to log onto facebook. I wanted to read what these parents had said, for the world to hear. I wanted to shame them. I wanted to punish them, for hurting me, angering me, and likely doing the same to others. That will make me feel better. That will... make... me feel...
But wait a second. In my hurt and in my anger I realized that would turn me into something this whole incident is really all about. It would make ME a bully. I would be no better than the people who hurt Amanda. Like an endless cycle of hurt, anger and lashing out. In the end I came to realize that bullies act tough, and act big, and pretend to walk tall. Some may even convince you. But really, bullies are just people who are hurt and angry.
We not only need to help those bullied, but we must help the bullies too. The earlier we get to a bully, the better the chances he/she won’t lash out for that tiny bit of gratification they get for making someone else miserable so they can feel good about their own misery — even for a second.
Thankfully many of the Westman parents who were critical of Amanda’s choices leading up to her death have since taken their comments down. That is the respectful thing to do. Were her choices similar to yours? Probably not. Were her choices the best decisions of a young person trying to fit in? No, but you were young once. Can understand the desperation in her attempts. Would you have made the choices she made? No. There is no way on earth Amanda deserved what happened to her.
Amanda’s story has struck a nerve around the world from Italy to Indiana — London to Lethbridge — Brandon to Brazil — people are saying "enough is enough".
Bullying is no laughing matter. But where do we turn? Where do kids turn? These links are excellent resources for both parents and kids looking for help on any topic.
Kids help phone is 24/7 — free, professional, and anonymous (nobody has to know your name).
www.kidshelpphone.ca or 1-800-668-6868
Other sites include: www.stopabully.ca or Call Toll-Free: 1-877-352-4497