Amanda Todd and the Myth of Digital Dualism

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.


Photo Credit:

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.

Cybersleuthing: A Whole New Level of Friendship

Our digital identity is our online presence; it is who we are online.  Our digital identity is a permanent collection of all the data about us that is available online, and each time we comment, blog, tweet, snap, pin, post a picture, update a status, etc., we are adding to that digital identity.

This week in ECMP 355, we were given the task of cybersleuthing a classmate in order to evaluate their digital identity.  I decided to cybersleuth my friend Robin, and she cybersleuthed me.

Robin and I are good friends outside of this class, and we follow each other on multiple social media platforms.  As such, I knew this assignment would be require some extra effort on my part because if I were to search Robin on Google, the personalized search feature would bring her up automatically.  So, in order to make the activity authentic, as if I were looking up Robin as a stranger, I used DuckDuckGo — a search engine that avoids the filter bubble of “personalized search results”.  This is what I found online about Robin:

Robin doesn’t have a huge online presence, but the information that I did find on her was very professional.  Right away I found Robin’s LinkedIn profile which describes her employment history and past volunteer experiences.  Robin’s LinkedIn profile told me that she is an alumni of George Brown College where she studied Early Childhood Education.  Using that information, I discovered that Robin was involved in a study-aboard program, and for her final practicum, she had the opportunity to go to Jamaica and teach in a kindergarten classroom.  I even managed to dig up a letter that Robin wrote while in Jamaica in which she talks about her practicum experience. While cybersleuthing Robin, I found out that, in addition to Jamaica, she has also travelled to India and China for teaching opportunities.


A picture of Robin in Jamaica during her final practicum.

Photo Credit: George Brown College via Talk Back Jamaica 2012

In addition to her LinkedIn profile, I was also able to find Robin’s Twitter and WordPress; however, she’s relatively new to both sites, so there wasn’t much to dig up.  Aside from those few sites, I couldn’t find any other information on Robin using DuckDuckGo (expect for a church service program in which she is mentioned for her work as a peer support student at Campion College), so I turned to her Facebook and Instagram accounts (both of which are private, and I only have access to because we follow each other).

Robin’s personal social media accounts are also very professional; I tried to see if I could dig up anything scandalous but found nothing (I’m starting to think there is something wrong with her ha ha).  On social media, Robin often posts pictures of her niece and nephew, shares flashback photos from her travelling adventures, and connects with friends.  She also regularly posts about, and advocates for, Treaty Education and social justice issues such as mental health issues and LGBTQ+ issues.

Photo Credit: Robin Tuck via Facebook

Overall, Robin has a very polished digital identity that frames her as a professional — although she is an “undersharer”.  One way in which Robin could improve her digital identity is be creating more of an online presence for herself by posting more regularly to public platforms like Twitter and her blog. Hopefully ECMP 355 can help Robin with this!

This cybersleuthing activity was eye-opening — it’s amazing (and kind of scary) how much information you can find online about a person if you dig deep enough; once you post something to the internet, it’s pretty much there forever. This activity reaffirmed in my mind the importance of having and maintaining a positive digital identity, especially as a teacher.  I think teachers are some of the most influential role models for young people, so it is important for teachers to model a positive digital presence that we would want our students to emulate.