Did Hacker Group Anonymous Threaten Blogger Who Posted Images of Cyber-Bullying?
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A meme is like an echo. It's a game of telephone. A meme births its own annihilation, as repetition and alteration gives way to meaninglessness and it becomes nothing more than a guttural sound, a blip, a sputter. A meme is what you make of it.
So, rather than removing the images, I decided to alter them.
On the Internet, where an image presented may be easily and instantly removed from its context and replicated endlessly, presenting it unaltered may be akin to presenting it without commentary at all. However, altering an image is hardly standard journalistic practice. Journalism seeks to be objective and truthful; journalists fight so that images will not be suppressed. But the memes that haunted Amanda Todd are part of a bigger story and alteration has now hopefully become part of its unfolding.
From a psychological perspective, the most insensitive memes might be viewed as ways in which society reclaims a tragic event and rewrites it as comedy. Certain things are so tragic or violent that they defy explanation and all we can do is laugh to keep from crying. But all the theory and comedic nuance in the world doesn't do much to help a bullied child, just like discussion of the email threat I received doesn’t make it any less disturbing. Showing the email to friends and colleagues and writing this article has in many ways made the threat more alive and present. It lives inside my head perhaps in the same way Todd’s tormentors lived inside hers, and like Todd, I am seeking solace and support online—the place where all my trouble began in the first place.
Ironically, if anyone believes that perpetrators of hate and bullying should be outed and their ways exposed, it would seem to be Anonymous. The entity was recently credited with releasing shocking footage in the Steubenville, Ohio sex-crime case. In the video, a college student is deriding and mocking the girl at the center of the case who, after drinking and becoming unconscious, was carried around to various football parties and sexually abused.
While my goal in using images created by Amanda Todd's bullies (and my goal in writing this article) is not to allow the public to locate the bullies and exact retribution, like those who released the Steubenville video, I aim to shed light on a cruel situation. Both the images I used and the Steubenville video show the power of the Internet to inflict psychic pain in an instant. In the Steubenville sex-crime case, tweets and images of the victim were posted on Twitter before she was even conscious to see them.
While it would be a better world if the Internet were purged of cyber-bullying, the people who should be held accountable are those responsible for it, not the journalists who report on its existence. Though it might be argued that sites shedding light on cyber-bullies also benefit from them in some way, since they create a fraction of our content, that is the same as saying the New York Times benefits directly from bombings and war-- while possibly true, it borders on ridiculous.
Obviously Amanda Todd's death is first and foremost a tragedy, not a lesson, but if I allow the horrors she experienced (contained in the images I published) to be forgotten or whitewashed by the Internet's self-cleaning mechanism of deletion and new traffic flow, am I really helping? Further, if I adhere completely to my blackmailer's demands, am I participating in censorship and fear-based limits on free speech?
In receiving my "Anonymous" email I was forced to come to terms with the dangers of the Internet. Late at night, I received a phone call from a 000000000 number. There was no message -- but was it Anonymous? My site was briefly shut down last week and I was up panicking -- was it Anonymous? I am experiencing a certain type of paranoia that only the Internet can engender, where every glitch has a meaning, where I both anticipate and fear being known. As if Facebook could suddenly look back at me and see me at home in my underwear. As if I will suddenly be unmasked and targeted specifically in a public space.