Last week a 15-year-old British Columbia girl committed suicide after being stalked online and suffering brutal harassment which followed her from school to school.
Before taking her own life, Amanda Todd immortalized her story in a video she posted to YouTube, which has now attracted over five million views.
In the video, she remains silent, but shows a series of handwritten cards on which she has recorded her nightmare come to life.
It seems that Todd made the mistake of using a webcam to interact with an online admirer, and after being complimented for her beauty, she acquiesced to his request and revealed her breasts. He managed to capture the image electronically, and then tried to blackmail her by revealing that he knew who she was and where she lived, and that if she didn't comply with his demands for another peep-show, he would distribute the photos.
When she refused, her anonymous stalker kept his word and sent the image of her unclothed torso to all of her friends and family, and anyone else that might know her, a fact which she learned at 4 in the morning from the police when they knocked on the door of her home.
Strangely, the people in Amanda's community did not rush to her defense – they did not condemn the anonymous man who stalked, harassed, threatened and exposed her against her will. Instead she was called vicious names. She lost all her friends. When she changed schools, her stalker made sure all of her new acquaintances also saw the photo, and she was again shunned.
It seems, then, as if having a body with breasts which are viewed by others is some kind of heinous moral crime. Only now that Amanda Todd is dead is her story inspiring an outpouring of public sympathy.
Meanwhile, another figure made famous by the internet has also attracted a massive outpouring of public attention this week.
A forty-nine year old married man and a father, Michael Brutsch, has for years operated anonymously on a popular website called Reddit, using an online pseudonym, "Violentacrez." He used this name to post and encourage others to post photos of women and girls, most of the photos taken without their consent, which seems to be part of the joy users take in viewing them. The photos were posted on Reddit chat rooms for discussion, under categories such as "Creepshots," "Chokeabitch" and "Deadjailbait."
Violentacrez' real name and photo were revealed last week in an article by Adrian Chen, a reporter at Gawker.com, a website which typically highlights stories of the absurd and which has national reach. The story has attracted over 3000 comments, many of them negative, and has also spawned dozens of stories in other media outlets which are also each spurring a massive debate.
But the debate is – for the most part – not about how it might feel to be a woman whose photo ends up on the internet to be rated and berated. The debate is, for the most part, not about the women in the photographs at all.
The vast majority of the debate is centered on whether Brutsch's right to free speech has been violated. Many commenters seem confused about the difference between being censored by the government for ideas and being written about by a journalist for something that's of interest to a vast number of people.
An article published in national news outlet The Daily Beast Thursday claimed that "If the outing and shaming of Reddit’s “creepy uncle” accomplishes anything, it will be to leave users walking on eggshells" – as if someone's name being attached to the online photo they posted of a woman's body without her consent is somehow detrimental to society.
The author tries to make the case that the freewheeling anonymous aspect of the internet is its most important value, while also advocating that people opposed to freewheeling actions of individuals online should keep their mouths shut. That the freewheeling should only be available to people who want to be creepy, but not to people who are being creeped upon, or to people who want to defend the creeped upon.
This kneejerk reaction to protect the "creepy uncle" at the expense of the creepy uncle's impact on everyone else is commonly known by psychologists as Denial.
This is the same mentality that allows sexual abusers to live on protected by families, churches, schools and workplaces who find it too uncomfortable to say anything.
We're not going to get anywhere near stopping abuses of any kind if we think that it doesn't matter enough to name names. It's too late to prove to Amanda Todd that her life mattered, but it's not too late to show living girls and women that if they are being abused online, there is recourse, and that it does matter.