JT Foxx on the Cycle of Online Harassment

We’re seeing more and more reports about bullying and cyber harassment these days. And with each heartbreaking story, it becomes increasingly clear that the issue of harassment is never black and white.

Philanthropist and serial entrepreneur JT Foxx is saddened by the death of Amanda Todd, the most recent teenaged victim of cyber stalking and online harassment. “Harassment of any kind is unfortunate”, says JT Foxx. The Todd case, however, raises some interesting questions.

Amanda Todd was harassed by someone online, who originally found her on Facebook. The person harassed her so mercilessly that it drove her to substance abuse and ultimately take her own life. This person went so far as to appear at her school after repeated harassment via Facebook. Todd created a YouTube post, detailing her ordeal several weeks before her death.

This tragic story took an unexpected turn when a member of the hacktivist group Anonymous released a video statement, also on YouTube, announcing the name and employer of the person they believe to be responsible for Todd’s ongoing harassment. They vow in their video to punish this person.

Anonymous are essentially a group of online vigilantes who use the internet to generate negative publicity for organizations or individuals whose actions they find objectionable.

The global “outing” of Todd’s supposed harasser seems easy enough to support, but it raises some very serious ethical questions. The person Anonymous holds responsible has now been named and targeted—and is already convicted in the court of public opinion, before he’s even been charged with a crime. The world now knows his name, who he works for and basically how to find him, thanks to a popular magazine’s subsequent posting of Google Maps to his house on their website.

If the person Anonymous has outed as the one responsible for the deplorable events that lead to the death of a 15 year old girl, it’s hard to take issue with them. But unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.

There is no question that online harassment is wrong…regardless of who it’s done to. In this case, however, the cycle of harassment is repeating, now against the accused. Is it fair to have a person’s entire life destroyed months (if not years) before he’s even accused of a crime?

Today’s world is lived both online and offline. The moment someone puts something up on the internet, it’s instantly shared across the world…and the more tragic the story, the faster news travels.

When we see stories like this, we get angry. We want to do something. But do you draw the line between right and wrong in situations like this? At what point do “best intentions” become harassment? Are cyber vigilantes any better than cyber bullies?

These kinds of ethical questions aren’t easily answered, but as more people take to the internet to tell their stories—and try to right wrongs—we’re going to continue to see the cycle of harassment continue.

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