The Awful Reality of Being Online


This week in #ecmp355 we covered a tough topic. The topic of sextortion.  It breaks my heart to see accounts and stories of young children who make one little decision that haunts them for the rest of their lives. And I’m not being dramatic. Sextortion has been the cause of many suicides. You just have to do a quick online search to realize that sextortion is dangerously life threatening to young people in today’s culture of technology and online citizenship. As you can see, my quick search of “sextortion suicide” in Google brought up story after story with tragic endings for the children involved.

I watched a documentary about Amanda Todd, who became well known in Canada after her suicide in 2012. It all started with a spur of the moment choice to flash the camera once while she was logged in to a chat room. She made a mistake that ended up taking her life. She was sextorted to the point where she didn’t feel safe leaving her house, where she eventually committed suicide.

The documentary I mentioned above noted that the accused man in Amanda’s case had created 86 Facebook accounts and over 90 screen names that he was using to torment around 75 young victims from all over the world. Amanda was not the only one in this situation, and although she reached out for help and filed police reports, it ended badly for her. International police ended up catching him, but not until after Amanda was gone.

This comes back to me as a teacher. I had to ask myself, how will this change my teaching? I think that kids are going to be online these days. I think about my days of online chat rooms back in the early 2000’s and I know the depth of the internet that I fell in back then, I can just imagine what it is like for young kids today. We can’t tell kids to get offline. The RCMP told Amanda Todd to get offline. That is not the answer. In my online search to find answers I came across the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. I found a news clip called “How to Talk to Kids About Sextortion”, and in that clip Lianna McDonald mentioned a kid-friendly website to educate and help kids in regards to sextortion. It is such a great resource! They use the naked mole rat to add interest for kids, and get them sending gifs instead of actual nudes of themselves. The website is Seriously, check it out. I think kids these days will go to that website willingly to get informed. They have hilarious memes and gifs available for download, such as the one I’m showing you here. The naked mole rats are so ugly they make me want to barf. Which is relevant to the way I feel when I think about sextortion.

My struggle with the people who do the sextorting is this: what do they get from it? I don’t see any form of monetary benefit for them, which would be a major factor for doing something so awful.  The only thing I can think of is that they get some sort of sick enjoyment from it, or fame in their circle of online sextortion friends. I found an article by Fox News. They quote Bruce Anderson, the director of cyber investigations and intelligence at Cyber Investigation Services LLC:

Children are easy to manipulate. Once they think they’ve done something bad like send a naked photo, they become an ongoing source to fuel child pornography. Parents, know what your kids are doing on their devices. Sextortionists can absolutely destroy children.

As a teacher, it is my job to help educate the students about the dangers of being online. We have been discussing digital citizenship and digital literacy in depth during class, and I reiterate my prior thoughts from my last blog post about digital citizenship. It just makes sense for teachers to focus on digital citizenship and literacy in the classroom. We live in a technology-rich world with a huge online presence. Educating students in regular human interactions is part of teaching, so why is that any different? Being online is a regular human interaction now. So teacher friends of mine who are reading this, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with situations like Amanda Todd’s and use them as teaching tools for the kids in this world. Let’s help keep our kids safe!


One thought on “The Awful Reality of Being Online

  1. Tanya Weller says:

    The facts you share from the documentary are disturbing. I am so glad our instructor, Katia Hildebrandt, introduced this topic to us. When at the forefront of our minds it is something we need to be aware of, take action, and help keep our students safe.


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