The Dark Side of The Wired World

Print this entry

A 15-year-old Canadian girl committed suicide on Oct. 10, driven to despair by cyber-bullying online through Facebook and emails, and in person as well. Amanda Todd made the sad mistake of sending a semi-nude photo of herself to a man a few years ago. To summarize, he posted the photo online. The bullying made her life a living hell to the point that, after several attempts, she killed herself last week. I hope the creep who started all this is found and goes to prison. As for the cruelty that resulted, well as Springsteen once sang, “I guess there is just a meanness in this world.” It is just so much easier to sit in front of a screen and spew vitriol than to say something to someone’s face, I suppose. I can’t fathom such cruelty.

Amanda’s death swept the teenage pages of Facebook, with millions who never knew her adding their condolences and comments to one of the many RIP pages that immediately arose. That is one of the stranger social trends that has arisen out of Facebook, this ersatz grieving among youth for people they do not know.  They talk about “friends” injured or killed in accidents, but when you quiz them, it turns out it is someone they actually only know through Facebook, not a kid they met in person. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less of a tragedy, but there is something askew here, when our children are growing up in a world where most of their social interaction is in front of screen and not face-to-face

And for some online users, as in the case of Amanda Todd, that cyber distance somehow makes it easy for people without a conscience to post horrible things, as was done to Amanda, ultimately driving her to suicide. Incredibly it is still being done after her death on the RIP pages created.

When I was running a newspaper in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park about 18 months ago, a 15-year-old girl shot and killed herself in the bathroom at one of the local high schools — a horrible tragedy that we had no choice but to report because of the public nature of the event. She had brought a handgun onto campus, news of her death was all over town, and certainly someone else could have been hurt or killed.

Almost immediately, well-meaning classmates put up at least two Facebook pages in remembrance of the student, in order to allow others to post comments. Just hours later, Facebook trolls had in effect taken over the pages, posting the most vile comments imaginable. It was my first encounter with these trolls, who are aptly named. They set up fake accounts since they quickly get booted from Facebook, use IP address aliases and do everything they can to avoid detection while spewing their vile comments. The editor and I attempted to figure out who the trolls were by capturing their IP addresses (the editor was far more computer savvy than me), but the best we could gather was that they likely were living in the United Kingdom. The kids who set up the Facebook accounts in Cedar Park were forced to shut them down by the next day. The trolls likely moved on to their next victim.


We have full access to our daughter’s Facebook page; that is part of the price she pays for being able to use the social media site. In other words, we can log in with her username and password. Same goes with her computer and cellphone.

In the case of Amanda Todd, at least one local kid posted Facebook comments that we found reprehensible, too revolting to repeat here. We quickly ordered our daughter to report the comments to Facebook, delete them from her page and “unfriend” that person: forever. It is up to his parents to deal with his unseemly behavior.

See, this isn’t just something that happens somewhere else. If you are a parent with teenagers using Facebook or texting, you have an obligation to monitor what is being posted on your child’s page. It will be an eye-opener even if your own child doesn’t use coarse language or treat others badly. I can practically guarantee some of his or her friends will be doing so, and that it can be found on your child’s Facebook site if you look hard enough.

As parents, we have learned the hard way that we must set limits for our daughter’s access to her phone, to Facebook and to the time she spends staring at a computer screen. Those limits are still evolving as we try to figure out how to strike the right balance. What won’t change are our rights and duty as parents to know what she is writing or posting, and what is being texted to her online and on her phone.

Every generation bemoans how much simpler times were when they were growing up. We live in amazing times, when there has never been greater or faster access to knowledge. But these are complicated times for children. They are barraged by digital stimulation, and without limits they feel that they must constantly stay connected to keep up with their peers — to be cool.

Being a parent isn’t for sissies. It never was, of course. But it really does seem more complicated these days. And scarier.


Print this entry

Leave a reply

Fields marked with * are required