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How cyber-bullying wreck young minds

It's a heartbreaking YouTube video, of a young girl holding up handwritten flashcards to describe years of bullying that drove her to depression, drugs, alcohol and multiple suicide attempts.

columns Updated: Oct 20, 2012 22:45 IST

It's a heartbreaking YouTube video, of a young girl holding up handwritten flashcards to describe years of bullying that drove her to depression, drugs, alcohol and multiple suicide attempts.

"Hello. I've decided to tell you my never-ending story. In the 7th grade, I would go with friends on webcam, meet and talk to new people. (I) got called stunning, beautiful, perfect etc. They wanted me to flash. So I did. One year later I got a msg on Facebook. From him… don't know he knew me. It said, if you don't put on a show for me, I'll send your boobs. He knew my address, school, relatives, friends, family names."

"Knock at my door at 4. It was the police. My photo was sent to everyone. I then got really sick and got anxiety, major depression, panic disorder. I then moved and got into drugs and alcohol. My anxiety got worse… (I) couldn't go out. A year passed and the guy came back with my new list of friends and school. But he made a Facebook page. My boobs were a profile pic."

"(I) cried every night, lost all my friends and the respect people had for me… again. Then nobody liked me. Name calling, judged… I can never get that photo back. It's out there forever…"

It got worse. Depressed, she had a fling with an older guy and got punched publicly by his girlfriend at school. Humiliated, she drank bleach and was hospitalised. She lived.

"After I got home all I saw was on Facebook - She deserved it, did you wash the mud out of your hair? I hope she's dead. Nobody cared… I moved away to another city to my mom. Another school…"

"Why do I get this? I messed up, but why follow me. They said I hope she sees this and kills herself. Why do I get this? I messed up but why follow me. I'm constantly crying now..."

"Every day I think, why am I still here? I'm on anti-depressants now and counselling and a month ago I overdosed (and was) in hospital for two days. I have nobody. I need someone :( . My name is Amanda Todd."

The 9-minute video posted on September 9 did nothing to change her nightmarish life. Last week, five weeks after posting the video, Amanda killed herself.

Within days, the video went viral as the world debated ways to stop faceless cyber trolling and the increasing use of the internet and social media to torment people, especially young, vulnerable teenagers.

Till cyber-policing gets better, Amanda's video should be viewed as a cautionary tale. We tend to forget that most of the stuff posted online is up there forever. Amanda's stalking started when she was 12, when she was lured by an online stalker to bare her breasts on a video link.

Next, he blackmailed her, threatening to send the pictures to her friends and family if she didn't strip for him. When she didn't, he posted them online, going so far as to create a fake Facebook page that ensured the images and bullying followed her wherever she went.

The only advice I gave my son when he became active online - I forget when, but it was around when he was 7 - was that he should never post personal information online: no address, phone numbers, photos… nothing. He didn't and it didn't affect his online activity in the least.

Except that his friends still don't believe he went to CERN in Geneva and saw the Large Hadron Collider up close and personal just before the search for the God Particle started in 2009 because there are no pictures on his Facebook page. Now that he's proved he knows his boundaries, his online activity is pretty much unsupervised.

The cyberworld is like a parallel universe waiting to be explored and it's unrealistic to ban your child's online activity. Instead, explain the dangers of online anonymity to your child and ensure you are around for them if they "mess up" like Amanda did.