Is Facebook culpable in Amanda Todd's death?
Next, she's prompted to "say what's on her mind." Well, she's about to shop for clothes, so she puts in the location, and who she's with, because Facebook asks.
Facebook makes this so easy, and fun!
Let's review: in about 2 minutes, under my pseudonym as a 15 year old girl, I've published my full name, an identifying photo of my face, my age and date of birth, where I go to school, my city, a list of my social connections, where I currently am and who I'm with. Because Jane is underage, Facebook has "limited" the people that can see all this info to "Friends of Friends."
"Friends of Friends."
Sounds rather personal and safe. But let's say I gather about 200 Facebook "Friends" (almost certainly an underestimate for the typical user). Each of those "Friends" also has 200 "Friends."
If you do the math, just by going about my daily Facebook business, I've revealed all my pertinent private information to the 40,000 people who are "Friends of Friends." I've done all this without a whiff of mention from Facebook about privacy or the implications of publicizing this information.
It's easy to think about online privacy as some kind of ephemeral concept.
We've been conditioned so deeply to this way of thinking by the likes of 28 year old Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, that we mostly don't even think twice.
Perhaps not so incidentally, Zuckerberg's first foray into social media was an application named Facemash, which illegally accessed his Harvard classmates' personal information and prompted its users to rate their attractiveness. One light slap on the wrist later, Zuckerberg was on his way to creating Facebook. Now, ten years later, this young man is the arbiter of the greatest trove of personal information in human history, with little or no oversight. Has Facebook changed some privacy settings to publish some of your private information, without notification? Tough. Zuckerberg knows best.
But Facebook is not alone in all of this.
At the time Amanda's predator published her photo, under section 163 of the Criminal Code, distribution of child pornography was punishable by a minimum of 90 days to a maximum of 2 years of imprisonment (the minimum has since been raised to 6 months).
Child pornography is defined to include "a photographic, film, video or other visual representation, whether or not it was made by electronic or mechanical means the dominant characteristic of which is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of a sexual organ or the anal region of a person under the age of eighteen years." Bare breasts have been declared by the courts to be included as a sexual organ.
We know that the RCMP were involved in this early. What we don't know is where that led to. They are keeping their mouths shut. Did they hold the predator to account? Do they even have the means to?
We don't know all the specifics. But unless Amanda's predator took considerable efforts to hide his tracks, with the help of Facebook, the police could have rapidly tracked him down and punished him accordingly.
What went wrong?
Did the officers responding not know the proper channels to pursue the investigation?
What responsibility does Facebook have to be upfront when criminal activity involving minors occurs on its network?
Should it initiate investigations itself and provide as much information to police as needed?
The RCMP owes the public an explanation, and a rapid one. Not an explanation that takes years to move through bureaucratic channels. We don't have years.
Amanda's death, at least in part, was a result of our society's inability to bridge the divide between digital and "real" lives. And yet that divide is growing smaller and smaller every passing day. A chilling thought: for every Amanda that is reported on, how many similar cases of online child predation go unreported? How many don't fight back as Amanda did, and are further and further controlled by their predators?
The Vancouver Observer will be following up on these issues in the following weeks. Massoud Hayoun will be digging into Facebook's policies and looking into similar stories to Amanda's. I believe we'll be hearing more from Krissy Darch about some of the gender issues involved. The Vancouver Observer's investigative team will definitely keep you informed as details emerge about RCMP involvement in the case. You can follow all the updates about Amanda Todd and related issues on the Vancouver Observer here. You can also subscribe to our newsletter, where we'll keep you posted on ALL the important stories that we are reporting on.