What to Do if Someone Blackmails You Online: Amanda Todd’s Lesson
- by Ligia Brubaker, Certified SRA / Dibbles Institute Educator Amanda Michelle Todd (November 27, 1996 – October 10, 2012) was a 15-year-old Canadian student who got wrapped in a very serious internet crime. She was a victim of cyberbullying who had no tools to stop the dangerous game she was trapped in. Sadly, she ended her life at her home in Port Coquitlam, Canada.
Before her death, Todd posted a video on YouTube in which she used a series of flash cards to tell other about her experience of being blackmailed into exposing her breasts via webcam. You might have seen her heartbreaking video.The video went viral after her death, with almost 14 million views.
Six months after her suicide, Amanda Todd’s bully was identified, arrested and charged with nine counts of accusations, including producing child pornography and extortion. The man who cyber bullied Amanda Todd to the point of suicide, was a Dutch national who had targeted as many as 75 victims around the globe. He used up to 95 different internet names to hide his true identity, but to no avail. Dutch authorities identified him, arrested him, tried him, convicted him, and sentenced him to eleven years in prison.
Why is all this important to you and I?
Well, for starters, let’s agree that there will always be divided opinions about internet bullying. Some people are not online at all, other people practically live on the internet. Some people are discrete, other people are clueless when it comes to the risks they take when they post information about themselves and their loved ones on internet.
What happened with Amanda is that someone online convinced her flash them. That someone took a screenshot of Amanda exposing herself and then blackmailed her, demanding that she undress in front of the camera or he would share the screenshot with all her friends. She gave in and danced for the guy. This happened over and over again, and every time she allowed the blackmailer to get new screenshots of her, she offered him more blackmailing material. Meanwhile, the blackmailer made sure NOT to keep his promise and soon all her classmates and friends had viewed pictures of Amanda undressed. It was a very torturous experience for Amanda. Her family reached out multiple times to the police and the answer was always the same: there’s not a lot we can do if Amanda keeps being plugged in online.
There are a few lessons that we should learn from Amanda:
1. Do NOT ever, under any circumstance, post anything online, anywhere, that you’d be ashamed of if your family or friends saw it. Even if you think the picture goes away in a few seconds, remember that there is a new breed of cyber bullies out there, the self-entitled “cappers” that are capturing your images with screenshots before they disappear. Even if you talk to friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, or even with your parents—do NOT post anything you’d like to keep private. The internet is the least private space on earth.
2. According to the law, if you share nude pictures and are under 18, you are distributing child pornography. Yes, even if you are sharing your own pictures. The law is very clear on this regard. You can be charged for producing and distributing child pornography, which is a very serious offence.
3. Never go along with the bully. Never buy into their lies: “If you give me 3 shows, I will disappear forever!” That is what Amanda’s blackmailer and bully told her so many times! And it was NEVER true. Look, if someone is bad enough to bully you and harass you and try to make you produce and distribute child pornography, they are also bad enough to lie. You can never trust anything that anyone tells you online. You always need to double check everything. Make sure you get your information from verified sources and not random online people.
4. Suicide is NOT the answer. Carol (Amanda’s mother), her heart is broken. Nothing will ever bring back her 15-years-old, beautiful daughter. Whatever you are going through, it will pass. It might seem for a few months that it’s there forever, but nothing lasts forever—neither the good nor the bad. And everything happens for a reason. Even you coming across this article happened for a reason.
5. If you are ever cyber bullied, you need to do these two things: first, you need to talk to a trusted adult who is actively involved in your life and will start fighting with you and for you. Amanda had her mom. Second (and this is where Amanda failed), you NEED to unplug. Please understand this—the internet is a world that doesn’t really exist. That is why we call it “virtual”. Cyber bullies only have power over you as long as you are connected online. Let me tell you a secret: mine and my husband’s company provides services. Our company provides only high standard services and we take pride in the work that we do. However, over the past 13 years of activity, we had one person who was totally satisfied with the service, then he went home and tried to pull apart the machinery we painted for him and scratched the surface of the paint with a screwdriver. He then took pictures of it and posted them online. By “posted online”, I mean he copy/pasted the exact same text on all our social media pages, our Google business page, our Yelp page, our BBB page, literally everywhere. Within 15 minutes, on a peaceful Sunday afternoon, both mine and my husband’s phone kept ringing and messaging us that we have new reviews on all our pages. It was as if all hell broke loose. Not only that, but he started creating additional ID’s on Google and Facebook and brought in some of his friends as well to comment on our pages.
So I went on all our pages and contested the reviews with Google, Yelp, Facebook, BBB, etc., and eventually called the police when his friends started sending me, a woman, threatening messages on my private phone number. It was like living in hell for a full week! BUT what I didn’t do, was ANSWER any of the messages. I completely ignored all messages and all reviews in relationship with the attackers. Do you know how long it took all these bullies to get bored? One week precisely. And that is exactly because life happens in the real world and people move on and get distracted and they HAVE to pay bills and go to work. As long as YOU engage back with one of these bullies, they will keep coming back. Once you stop, usually within one week, they get carried away. Just don’t engage. It’s not worth losing your life for someone who sits in their parent’s basement and sees you as a joke. Just cut out all forms of communication and unplug. There is absolutely no other way to make a cyber bully go away but by ignoring them.
I hope you all experience a cyber-bully-free existence. But if there is one thing Amanda taught us, it’s that you need to first put your safety above anything else. Life is precious!