Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sadness, anger in cyber-world after teen's death

Social media used to mourn tragedy

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Amanda Todd's tragic story went viral Friday, her life after death triggering an outpouring of support she'll never feel.

The 15-year-old girl from Port Coquitlam, B.C., hanged herself after posting a black-and-white YouTube video about being abandoned to a "never-ending" nightmare.

One photo of her breasts, circulated in a chat room, led to unrelenting cyber-bullying that dogged her until she died. Now, her stark video is bringing home the power of social media.

In Winnipeg, the outpouring of grief from hundreds triggered memories for victims of schoolyard bullies years after the events.

Some reported visceral reactions to Todd's silent nine-minute video, the petite teen's photos and her violent end.

"Thirty years after I walked out of high school, I am still beating myself up with the things I was tormented with. I am married now and have kids and grandkids but I still hear the comments, the torment, the name-calling and everything else that happened to me," Cynthia Jones said.

By mid-afternoon, more than 192,000 people had hit the "like" button on the Facebook page "RIP Amanda Todd."

The worldwide web is connecting people in ways earlier generations could never imagine.

"Facebook mourning might be thought of as the speed-dating of grief," University of Manitoba associate Prof. Karen Wilson Baptist said in an email Friday.

"Public grief is different than the grief that is felt when one loses a dearly beloved person," she added.

Social media make public mourning even more temporary. But it's lightning fast and it can do what nothing else can. "The outrage evoked may endure and could be a catalyst for change," Wilson Baptist said.

She researches roadside memorials in her field of expertise, landscape architecture. The crosses driven into the ground near highways where a fatal accident has occurred, with their faded flowers and weathered teddy bears, express the feelings people post to the Internet. That makes Facebook the roadside memorial in the virtual world.

But a Winnipeg victim of childhood bullying noted social media also drove Todd to her death.

"The Internet is a scary thing," said RainShyne Morpheus in an interview after she left this comment below a story about Todd on the Free Press website: "Throughout my junior high years, I was bullied intensely... I understand where this girl was coming from. That being said, it is frustrating that not enough was done. This girl could have grown into a strong, resilient woman, but not enough intervention happened, and that is definitely the fault of the adults. Where is the punk bully's parents?? Terrible."

Morpheus said her first reaction was nausea even though her bullying was 20 years ago. "The bullying I went through... people would be put in jail today for what they did to me then."

Sports helped her cope and after high school she changed her name and left Winnipeg.

Today, she said, she's happily married with a son and a big dog in a "beautiful house in St. Vital."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 A13

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