VANCOUVER — Like many people his age, 17-year-old Seth Bergen heard about Amanda Todd’s suicide through social media, the same medium that was used to exploit and torment the young teen before she took her own life.
And like many people his age, the very public discussion about Todd’s life and death — online, in the news and at school — has forced Bergen to think about the impact bullying has on his peers.
“I think a lot of people get bullied, and it’s not often seen; it’s often in the shadows,” Bergen said after attending a We Day event in Vancouver, where the issue of bullying and Todd’s story figured prominently.
“I think it’s good that they’re bringing light to that. A lot of the time, the people that are being bullied are hurting a lot more than they show, and the bullying makes it a lot worse.”
We Day events are held across Canada to encourage youth to be engaged in the world around them, with music and dance performances intertwined with speeches from the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former basketball star Magic Johnson, both of whom spoke at the Vancouver event on Thursday.
Bullying is already a major theme at We Day, and a week after Todd’s suicide made headlines around the world, it’s an issue several speakers at Thursday’s event addressed, including including Johnson, musician and anti-bullying advocate Demi Lovato, and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark.
Todd, who was from Port Coquitlam, B.C., took her own life last week after enduring years of Internet sexual exploitation and bullying by her peers. A month earlier, she posted a video on YouTube that described how an incident in which she was lured to expose her breasts on a webcam set her down a path of anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol abuse.
Clark, a former radio host who became an advocate for “Pink Shirt Day” before her recent return to politics, paid tribute to Todd on stage at We Day.
“I’m wearing pink today in her memory,” Clark told a stadium filled with thousands of grade school students from across B.C.
“Amanda left us a video record of what it felt like. And she did that because she wants each of us to remember her, that she needed someone to stand up.”
Lovato’s appearance in Vancouver so soon after Todd’s death was a poignant coincidence, days after the young teen’s parents told reporters about their daughter’s admiration for the musician.
Todd’s father, Norm, told the Vancouver Sun newspaper earlier this week that his daughter planned to get a tattoo of the words “Stay Strong,” the same phrase Lovato has tattooed on her wrist.
Lovato, a Disney star and a judge on the TV talent show X Factor, has been open about her own experiences with bullying, which she says forced her to leave middle school.
She developed an eating disorder and later started cutting her wrists.
Lovato didn’t refer to Todd’s case specifically on Thursday, but she did use her We Day appearance to reach out to bullying victims.
“I know that there’s someone out in this audience who’s being bullied, and I know that they need someone to look up to,” she said.
“I’m on this stage, and I’m talking to you, whoever that is out there, and I’m telling you that this is an issue that we can beat, this is something that you can get through, and this is something that will not bring you down.”
Earlier, in a brief interview with reporters, Lovato said the advent of cyberbullying has made the kind of bullying that she endured as a child even worse.
“One reason kids are more affected by cyberbullying, and why bullying has gotten so much worse over the past 10 years or so, is because now we have Twitter and Facebook,” she said.
“It’s embarrassing enough to get bullied in person, but when it’s out in front of the entire world online and everyone sees it, it’s even more embarrassing.”
During Todd’s nine-minute video, the teen explained in hand-written notes that she was in Grade 7 when she was lured over the Internet by an unidentified male to expose herself on a webcam.
A year later, she said she received a message from a man on Facebook threatening to distribute the photos if she didn’t give him a show.
Police later told her somebody followed through with that threat, the cards said.