In the beginning, my friendship with Carol was not one that I wanted.
I was actually terrified of meeting Carol the first time we sat down for a coffee. I had already seen her daughter years earlier, in a social media awareness presentation that I delivered at a middle school.
I remember her daughter, sitting in a small gymnasium with fellow attentive students listening to a lesson about social media safety. Now, a few years later, I was meeting a woman who was about to teach me so much.
I remember hearing the stories and reading the reports as videos, comments and posts trickled through my social media feeds in October of 2012 about Amanda Todd. As local media emailed me asking for an opinion and a sound bite, I struggled as a speaker to convey a message as I could only sit and think about what a mother who had just lost her child was going through.
My fear in meeting Carol for the first time was not of reluctance to meet a person who I felt remorse for. The fear was more about what I could possibly say, especially considering my experience in working with youth and social media, to a woman who I knew was now destined to become an expert of how the social media world could change a life.
We can all imagine, reluctantly of course, what would happen if we lost a child. My friend Carol has lost her child to suicide and because of the notoriety of how her child passed; Carol has become a celebrity of sorts but without the fortune that accompanies the majority of those who become famous.
She carries a different type of notoriety, one that is attached to who her daughter was, who her daughter has become in our conversations about social media, cyber-bullying and mental health. My friend Carol is taking a difficult topic and turning the legacy of her daughter into awareness and communication for youth and on a daily basis she is learning how to navigate social media.
Today when parents ask me how to protect their children from negative social media content, I think about Carol who receives positive and negative emails and social media messages. She ignores most of the negative without feeding a response, instead she spends her time emailing large social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to address fake accounts and she responds to emails and messages from parents who reach out looking for a beacon of light in a scary world of youth, information and over-sharing.
Carol has become a spokesperson who is invited to speak on stages, stages that I think she would prefer were classrooms, working with kids as she did in the previous part of her professional life. Carol has become a voice for mental health, youth and social media influence with a story that no parent wants to have to tell.
I have met a strong woman who is taking on a whole new world and I am happy today to call Carol Todd my friend. When we hear a new story about a girl on the other side of Canada named Rehtaeh Parsons who was bullied, assaulted, and harassed online, I can only think of the similarities in story to Carol and her daughter Amanda Todd.
In 2012 - the world used Google to search people.
It went Whitney Houston, Kate Middleton and in third spot, Amanda Todd.
Amanda became famous, people searched and learned about a child from my community but then there is the content that's left behind and abused.
The above screenshot is obviously not a real profile belonging to Amanda Todd but anyone can make a Facebook account and when they do, the people behind the accounts like this, send messages to my friend Carol and at my core it doesn't make me mad, it scares me.
Who creates this type of hurt and for what purpose?
Is it a laugh or giggle for friends? Is there a sick joy that I'm missing in sending the images of deceased children and using their name in the form of a fake profile to a mother who cannot hurt anymore?
Parents please continue to learn about the story attached to Amanda Todd and today do not hesitate to talk to your children about the new story of Rehtaeh Parsons. Talk to your children about mental health, talking about social media is the first step in educating your kids about social media safety and outline your expectations about how your children will utilise this powerful tool for communication.
But as you read the above and wonder "Who would do this to another person?", "Where are the parents?" or "Who would send so much hate?" My question for you, as a father to other parents, what will your child do when they want to hurt a person using the Internet?
If you cannot find an answer, ask my friend Carol Todd, she can tell you what a person does online when they think no one is looking and it seems funny. She can tell you about the kids who have opened up to her and she can tell you about the hateful messages that are sent anonymously and it is not funny. It is hurtful and vile and until we have a way to verify social media accounts, confirmed by parents for young users, I promise these types of messages will happen to another parent and child tomorrow.