Internet ‘trolls’ use cloak of anonymity to torment Amanda Todd in death

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

She's certainly not the first teen to end her life, aided by the long arm of the schoolmates and online predators who tormented her until death seemed preferable to one more day of life.

But the story of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old B.C. student who killed herself a month after posting a video about her personal bullying ordeal, appears to have struck an unusually powerful nerve.

In the days since her Oct. 10 suicide, countless news articles and comments have questioned how we arrived at a place where children would routinely prefer to die than continue in a world where they're taunted, harassed, threatened and excluded to the point of hopelessness.

And unlike bullied children of the past, home is no longer a safe place but a portal through which the bullies can continue their awful campaigns through social media.

[ Related: In wake of Amanda Todd suicide, can we legislate being nice? ]

The empathy and outrage expressed in forums and memorial pages reveals that the majority is sickened by this type of behaviour.

Then there are the trolls — people who use the Internet's convenient cloak of anonymity to spread hateful and inflammatory comments and photos for their own amusement — a number of whom have set the dead teen and her grieving family in their crosshairs.

Among the most egregious offenders are the ones who have taken the time to create and post offensive images. One such individual, who operates under the handle "Haunter," spoke to the Vancouver Sun about why he set up a Facebook page to spread these images, including one of a young girl hanging herself, accompanied by the caption "Todding."

In sum, his motivation came down to attracting attention and inciting people for kicks.

"I got a lot of enjoyment," he told the paper. "I enjoy screwing around with people who think they're tough because they threaten physical violence to people who post pictures on Facebook. I don't think that the photo I posted is nice and I think it's very morbid, but I was well within the Facebook Terms and Conditions and my legal rights to post it."

"I got almost 20,000 views on [Facebook] insights up from about 400. I got about 40 new page likes. The sheer popularity of my page skyrocketed," he added.

Haunter, who refuses to divulge any personal information other than the fact he's a college student in the "computer field," seemed to believe his actions did not constitute a form of hateful activity.

"I didn't do it to spread hate, I did it to get a rise out of people. I guess the difference is the intention. If I hated Amanda and bullied her through her life, then yes, it would be a form of hate. But this is just morbid and tasteless humor," he said.

What one person considers "morbid and tasteless humor" could have a lifelong impact on others. Imagine the friends or family of Amanda Todd having to contend with those images while their pain is still so raw.

[ Related: Anti-bullying campaigns get higher profile but few funds ]

In spite of this awareness, Haunted seems to think the people who want to track him down are the real bullies.

"The people posting hate on my page think they have every reason to give me death threats which I have gotten plenty of in the last two days, but they fail to see that this is precisely the line of thinking that made Amanda Todd commit suicide," he said, recasting himself in the role of victim.

As long as users refuse to connect the person they're "trolling" with real human beings on the other end, expect this growing lack of empathy to keep bullying in headlines on continual loop.