For Teens Online, Hundreds of ‘Friends’ and No One to Turn to -
A tragic suicide underscores just how easy it is for teenagers find trouble on the Web—and how hard it can be to escape the past.
Amanda Todd is an Internet sensation. Last week, her name was a trending Twitter #hashtag. A Facebook page honoring her has 590,000 “Likes.” A YouTube message she recorded to the world— “I’m not doing this for attention,” she wrote in an accompanying note, “I’m doing this to be an inspiration and to show that I can be strong”—has been watched more than four million times.
If only Amanda Todd had lived long enough to witness it.
Todd was just 12 when, fooling around with friends and a Web cam one day, she flashed her breasts for a chat room stranger. Details remain thin, but it appears that the stranger was man with a history of pedophilia who recorded the encounter and stalked Todd for years afterward, disseminating the photos to her friends via Facebook. He attempted to extort her—“If you don’t put on a show for me I will send ur boobs…”—and she began to spiral: panic attacks, substance abuse, depression. She transferred schools three times, but everywhere she went the topless pics followed, circulating by email and text message among her new classmates.
Todd began to cut herself, attempted suicide by drinking bleach, and finally, in early September, took to YouTube to tell her story in a haunting, now-viral, cry for help. “I can never get that photo back,” she wrote in the video. “It’s out there forever.”
A month later, Todd hanged herself in her mother’s home. She was one week shy of 16.