Jumping the gun

You’ve been bullied.

You’ve been laughed at for doing something stupid.

You’ve also laughed alongside the crowd at the embarrassment of another.

Broadway baby Carol Burnett told us “comedy is tragedy plus time,” an apt explanation to why I can, for example, laugh at a Hitler gag on The Simpsons, despite sharing Christmas dinner with family members that recall the horrors of Nazism like it happened yesterday.

The loneliness of the bullied child manifesting a punch line has the power to trigger positive coping techniques and crucial life lessons on dealing with the universal bully; unfortunately, some never get the chance to fully learn them, get their chance to eventually release the tension and laugh at their past’s tragedies.

News of British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd’s suicide spread worldwide in the past week, provoking many reactions to the circumstances that pushed her to kill herself, and the destructive consequences of bullying.
This past September, she posted a video on YouTube outlining experiences of bullying and sexual exploitation she’s encountered on the Internet since grade seven.

In the video, now with over 5 million views, Todd recounts how she flashed her breasts to someone via webcam, who then made threats to send images from their conversations to family and friends. The image made rounds on the Internet, causing her to experience anxiety and major depression. Changing schools and moving several times, she was teased elsewhere for her webcam flash, on and offline, an easy target for fun-making.

After an incident involving her getting jumped by numerous classmates over a fling, Todd changed schools yet again. Six months after that incident, she continued to receive insults over Facebook.

The 15-year-old was found dead in her home on Oct. 10, 2012, prompting an investigation by the RCMP, which is currently ongoing.

Amanda Todd’s story received immediate attention online, due in large part to the heartbreaking timeliness of her personal YouTube video. Negative online reactions have received their own attention, such as the case of a Calgary woman reporting a London, Ont., resident’s Facebook comment thanking “God the bitch is dead,” which cost him his job.

This week, Internet users associated with “hacktivist” group Anonymous posted the name and address of a New Westminster, B.C.-area man, who they claimed was Amanda Todd’s webcam partner.

According to The Globe and Mail, a man who answered the email address and door of the address posted said he knew nothing of such claims, which the RCMP have since called “unfounded” accusations. Meanwhile, Anonymous have now posted a second name online. Todd’s latest suspected blackmailer allegedly has a history of browsing child pornography sites.

The man firstly accused by Anonymous is facing sexual misconduct charges unrelated to Todd, and police have not commented on the second man.

With the ability to instantly communicate reaching near ubiquity, the substance behind thoughts posted online has fallen by the wayside. Such is the vigilantism of self-starting justice in the Twitter-era.

A stupid quip on Facebook can now cost you your employment, and an online accusation can seemingly outweigh the reality of fact within days. This isn’t even a product of today’s share-y, social “Internet two-point-oh.” A classic example is with fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who was the target of an email chain (remember those?) accusing him of once saying he wished minorities wouldn’t wear Hilfiger-brand clothing. He eventually settled the matter in an interview on Oprah in 2007.

With the velocity of information in today’s connected world, it seems we too want our justice delivered instantly. This hasty e-vigilantism has ramifications that go far beyond a screen, like when Spike Lee tweeted the wrong address of the residence of Travyon Martin’s killer, forcing a Florida family to flee their home due to misdirected harassment.

We want to see justice served like fast food, so we may collectively gorge and feel content in it filling our moral hunger.

But wrongly firing off accusations online delegitimizes the significance of good, thought-provoking online discussion, all while stoking Internet flame wars, and inciting mob rule on platforms better suited for the sharing of truthful information, not TMZ-style human controversy.

Constructing an opinion on the basis of fact is a vital component in forming an argument, and its importance does not weaken if you’re “just” a voice online. In fact, if you want your opinion to be taken seriously, fact checking is a sign yours is deserving of that courtesy.

Journalist or not, verifying facts is what keeps our world accountable, and it’s what separates the ones yelling the clearest from the ones that are just yelling.

What happens when a finger gets pointed at an innocent person, and turns their life upside down? When people band together to bully the bulliers, without first verifying whether they are in fact bullies or not, what happens?

You’ve been bullied, after all.