OTTAWA — A backlash over alleged cyberbullying that pushed a Canadian girl to suicide has cost a man his job, and is hampering a federal police investigation, authorities said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the tormenting of the teenager’s grief-stricken family members continues with websites popping up purporting to be raising money for them and pocketing the funds.
Federal police said in a statement they have sifted through thousands of tips since Friday in the tragic case of 15-year-old Amanda Todd, which has sparked a national debate in Canada on what is appropriate online behavior.
“The outpouring of support, emotion and information is literally overwhelming,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Peter Thiessen said.
“The Internet and social media were central to Amanda’s story and they are central to our investigation as well.”
But, he added, “one of our big challenges right now is false information that is being spread by people who appear to be trying to use Amanda’s story to do harm or make a profit.”
In a YouTube video watched by millions worldwide, Todd, said she suffered from anxiety, “major depression” and panic attacks after a photo of her breasts, flashed in an online video chat with a stranger a few years earlier, was distributed in her community in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province.
She said she withdrew and turned to drugs and alcohol, and “cried every night.”
In the video, Todd laments a lack of friends due to the controversy, a schoolyard beating over a boy and changing schools several times to escape blackmail. She says, “I have nobody. I need someone.”
After several failed suicide attempts involving cutting and drinking bleach and then posting the YouTube video describing her sadness, Todd finally killed herself on October 10.
Her death has led to discussions at schools, in the media, in political circles and at kitchen tables nationwide about how to keep youths with a lot of technical knowledge but no life experience — a combination that makes it hard for them to assess risk and imagine future consequences — safe online.
Politicians have called for a “federal strategy” on cyberbullying and even criminalizing bad behavior online.
But some Canadians aren’t waiting for their leaders to act.
On Monday, the hacker group Anonymous identified a man in the Vancouver area as Todd’s anonymous tormenter.
The man allegedly tried to blackmail Todd, according to her YouTube posting, saying after her indiscretion that he would widely distribute the photo of her breasts if she didn’t “put on a show” for him. She refused.
Newspapers reported that a man in London, Ontario — 4,000 kilometers from Todd’s home in British Columbia — was fired from his job at a clothing store for posting on an online memorial page dedicated to Todd: “It’s about time this b**** died.”
“It made my stomach turn that someone could write that, after this person had committed suicide. It was terrible,” said Christine Claveau of Calgary, who complained to the man’s employer after spotting the remark.
Lindsay Ulsifer, who administers a Facebook page in honor of Todd, told the daily Toronto Sun that Todd supporters have been accused of “bullying the bullies” in their efforts to strike back at her tormenters, but insists that people shouldn’t anonymously spew hate from behind the veil of computers and think they can get away with it.
Police however said that “unfounded allegations,” including Anonymous’s outing of a Vancouver area suspect, are hampering their investigation. Todd’s mother told Canadian media she believes her daughter’s tormentor actually resides in the United States but authorities have not identified him.
Still, the Vancouver man’s family has been ostracized and others have also been impacted.
A lawyer in the city who weighed in on Internet vigilantism in interviews with local media reportedly received angry emails from people mistakenly believing that he is defending Todd’s alleged tormentor.
A British Columbia coroner, meanwhile, was forced to deny a claim that Todd’s autopsy photos had been released.
These rumors, said Thiessen, have “caused extreme stress” for Todd’s family and “distracted investigators for hours.”
The police sergeant also blasted a number of fake websites and accounts that purport to be fundraising for the Todd family, saying that “taking advantage of a family’s grief is despicable.”
Thiessen welcomed the public’s help in the case, but urged everyone to be “a responsible citizen of the Internet and think critically about information received online before passing it along.”