Digital dualism is the belief that the digital and physical worlds are distinct entities — one space does not impact the other. After hearing about the story of Amanda Todd, I’m not so sure that’s the case.
This week in ECMP 355 we were to watch The Sextortion of Amanda Todd, a documentary by the Fifth Estate. The video describes the extensive sexual exploitation, or sextortion, and slut-shaming the young woman experienced after she flashed her breasts to the webcam in an online chatroom upon request of a man she had been messaging. The man was a capper — a type of cyber-predator who stalks websites and chatrooms looking to flatter women into performing sexual acts, only then to capture and distribute their images. On October 10, 2012, Amanda Todd committed suicide after having dealt with the blackmailing and slut-shaming for over three years.
On the surface, Amanda Todd’s story seems to be a cautionary tale about cyber predators and the importance of developing and maintaining a positive digital identity. In my opinion, though, the story of Amanda Todd is less about digital identity and more about the link between our online and offline selves.
It would be easy to say that what happened to Amanda Todd is the result of her one little digital mistake. But let’s face it — society and its sexualization of women also played a role. Women are led to believe that their worth is attached to their sexual desirability — the more “wanted” we are by others, the greater our worth. The media sends women off on tangents to perfect our bodies; there is always an advertisement for some new, hot exercise regime, diet plan, skin care routine, fashion style, etc. designed to help make us more physically attractive. These media messages are so powerful and widespread that women begin to internalize them from a very young age. According to Media Smarts, “three-year-olds already prefer game pieces that depict thin people over those representing heavier ones, while by age seven girls are able to identify something they would like to change about their appearance”. Terrifying.
If women grow up believing that their worth is attached to their ability to be sexually desirable, is it any wonder that Amanda Todd flashed the webcam? The problem, however, is that women face a paradox: they are pressured into being sexy, but then punished for being sexual. In other words, as soon as we act on our sexuality, we are shamed for it. Amanda Todd fell victim to this paradox, and she paid the ultimate price.
So, as educators, what can we do about this? What are our responsibilities?
Of course we have a responsibility to teach about digital citizenship and to educate our students on how/why to create positive digital identities. But that’s only part of it. Amanda Todd’s story demonstrates how our online and offline worlds are not distinct entities but are, in fact, intricately connected, proving digital dualism to be a myth. In this sense, not only do we have to teach students how to create and maintain positive digital identities, but we have to help them to develop positive “offline identities” as well. This means discussing topics like body image, media influences, sex ed, and choice and consequence, as well as encouraging students to develop talents/hobbies, healthy relationships, and critical-thinking skills — things that nurture self-esteem.
So, what do you think? What other responsibilities do we as teachers have in helping prevent tragedies like this from occurring? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts.