Florida teen Tovonna Holton took her own life after a nude video of her was shared without her permission on Snapchat. (Photo: Facebook)
A family in Tampa expected to be celebrating the completion of 15-year-old Tovonna Holton’s freshman year at Wiregrass Ranch High School, but instead they’re preparing her funeral — and it’s all because of cyberbullying.
The teen used her mother’s handgun to take her own life this past Sunday after finding out that friends had allegedly filmed her taking a shower and posted it to Snapchat without her permission, according a report by Tampa news channel WFLA. “I said, ‘My baby! My baby!’” a visibly distraught Levon Holton-Teamer, Holton’s mother, recalled through tears in a video for WFLA. “I couldn’t get in the bathroom … so I tried to get in, and I look down. I seen a puddle of blood.” Holton-Teamer told the station that she tried to save her daughter by applying pressure to her head before dialing 911.
The grieving mother added that she had gone to the school repeatedly to report Holton’s ongoing bullying, but “wasn’t always satisfied with the responses she got.” She was thinking of pulling her daughter out of the school before Sunday’s tragedy occurred.
Tovonna Holton (Photo: Vine)
A more recent report by the Daily Beast claims that it was actually Holton’s ex-boyfriend who shared the nude video on Twitter in an act of revenge. Holton’s “longtime pal” Christian Coyle-Watts told the publication that the couple had broken up Sunday morning after a series of fights and that “Tovonna’s Snapchat recording was meant to be a “body appreciation” post before the ex-boyfriend allegedly published it.”
It’s unclear which report is correct, but WFLA says that the case is currently under investigation by the sheriff’s department.
Suicide due to cyberbullying is sadly not uncommon. According to DoSomething.org — “one of the largest global orgs for young people and social change” — victims of bullying are two to nine times more likely to commit suicide than average kids, and almost 43 percent report they’ve been bullied online. Most shockingly, 90 percent of teens who have witnessed cyberbullying say they’ve simply ignored it.
The personal tales of teens who have killed themselves because of cyberbullying are almost too numerous to keep up with. This month, 15-year-old Shania Sechrist hanged herself in her Pennsylvania family home after being harassed on Facebook and through text messages. In January, David Molak, a high school sophomore in San Antonio committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied, primarily on Instagram and through texting. According to Heavy.com, the bullies were actually threatening to kill him. One message read, “We’re going to put him six feet under.” His tormenters were not prosecuted because of insufficient evidence.
Some of the most high-profile cases of teens committing suicide after being bullied online include Amanda Todd, who posted a now-famous video to YouTube about her abuse — most notably, a Facebook profile her tormentor created featuring a topless photo of her — before hanging herself a month before her 16th birthday. Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old student at Rutgers University when he jumped off the George Washington Bridge in 2010. Clementi’s roommate had outed the teen as gay by secretly filming him kissing another man and posting it to Twitter.
The list goes on and on.
But Nancy Lublin, founder and CEO of the Crisis Text Line, says social media isn’t the problem, people are. “That was a very, very bad judgment call by her friends,” says Lublin. “Social media companies can be good agents in these situations by (a) providing an easy flagging system so that issues can be caught quickly and (b) partnering with orgs like us. For example, we work with After School, YouTube, and others to help provide a custom in-platform solution.”
So what can we do to prevent these senseless deaths — and curb the off-the-rails phenomenon of cyberbullying? “It’s vital that parents actively participate in their children’s digital life to help them stay safe online,” warns a spokesperson for the U.K.’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “The NSPCC’s Net Aware guide gives parents the support, advice, and information they need to have the right kind of conversations about the online world.”
Lublin adds, “I’m also a parent of an 11-year-old girl. We talk about social media a lot — we imagine the kind of people who might see things she posts. So, I might ask her, ‘How would you feel if your math teacher saw that post?’ Or, ‘What would your grandma think of that?’ I don’t make rules; I ask questions.”
As for teens themselves, NSPCC urges them to open up to an adult they trust if they are being cyberbullied — no matter how hard it may be to ask for help. Lublin adds, “Pay attention to privacy settings. Those matter … and they change. Consider making the accounts private on Snapchat and Instagram. Never post a pic of yourself doing something that would make your grandma cringe.”
In the U.S., teens are encouraged to call the Crisis Text Line immediately if they are being bullied and to ask for representation if a harassing image, video, or message is circulating. In the U.K., Childline can also help with taking an illegal image off the Internet by making a report to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) on a victim’s behalf.
Teens (or anyone) in crisis can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7, anonymously, at 800-273-8255.