In the year since Amanda Todd took her own life at the age of 15, her mother Carol Todd has grieved while speaking out about bullying, mental health and the power and pitfalls of social media for youth.
Along the way, she has heard from people about how her words affected them, including a young Ontario man who told her he wished he could light up Niagara Falls when she came to visit.
As it turned out, that couldn’t be arranged in time for her recent visit. But Niagara Falls – along with the CN Tower, city halls, water towers, stadiums and other monuments in Canada and the United States – are expected to be glowing in purple light on Oct. 10, the first anniversary of Amanda’s death and World Mental Health Day.
For Ms. Todd, who started working on the Light Up the World Purple campaign about six weeks ago – purple was one of Amanda’s favourite colours – the flurry of e-mails, phone calls and logistical details have given her focus and kept her mind off the looming anniversary.
“It is like something I have to do, a mission, so it has kept my mind off the date,” Ms. Todd said Wednesday from her home in Port Coquitlam. “All of those places in six weeks – and I just got a message this morning that Winnipeg is on board.”
The campaign’s momentum has been fuelled by the use of technology and social media, the same tools that were part of Amanda Todd’s torment before she died and pushed her suicide into the public realm. A few months before her death, she made a video that described how she had been stalked and bullied online after “flashing” someone online.
After she died, the video – featuring Amanda with a series of handwritten flash cards – was widely viewed and shared, in the process becoming a focal point for public debate and demands that more be done to prevent bullying and harassment wherever it occurs.
The video also triggered calls for police to track down the person or people who had stalked Amanda.
Sandy Garossino, a former B.C. Crown prosecutor and co-founder of the Red Hood Project, which calls for social media giants to control and protect children’s privacy online, said she is dismayed at the fact no charges have been laid one year later.
“I really have to wonder why it is that RCMP cannot make an arrest in this case,” she said. “Anyone who is intimately familiar with the online footprint of the Amanda Todd case knows that there are trails and threads that lead directly to individuals. It’s almost impossible for us to grasp that the police have not followed those threads.”
Sergeant Peter Theissen, a spokesman for the B.C. RCMP, said Wednesday that the investigation is “ongoing, active and continues to be a priority.”
As well, Ms. Garossino says social media sites must increase staffing levels to keep pace with technology and combat the exploitation of children online.
Asked if she thinks things have changed in the year since her daughter’s death, Ms. Todd says she believes there is a greater awareness of bullying and harassment, and that schools in particular have worked hard to develop strategies to educate students about social media.
But she believes there is more to be done around mental health, saying she would like to see programs to help children and youth deal with anxiety, depression and other mental-health concerns.
She is currently focusing on advocacy work, especially on raising awareness of mental-health issues among vulnerable youth. She has met the parents of Rehtaeh Parsons, who died after attempting suicide last April following harassment and bullying online.
The work is difficult but necessary, she says.
“Sometimes when you see me and Rethaeh Parson’s family out there – we don’t have our kids, but we can be the voice of change,” Ms. Todd said.
“We’ve been lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with some of the big players in the country and voice how we feel. I feel that we have been listened to – whether the proper actions come is a different thing.” The main thing, she said, is “to continue to create discussion and debate. Because that’s the way we can forge ahead and make a difference.”
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