Anonymous, Amanda Todd, and the dangers of vigilante justice online

Anonymous-Amanda-Todd

A downpour of reports flooded the Internet this week after Anonymous-branded vigilantes released the identity of the person they claim drove 15-year-old bullying victim Amanda Todd to suicide. A name, age, telephone number, email addresses, and home address were all released by the Internet activists. Vice, Jezebel, the Daily Mail, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more than a thousand other publications picked up the story.

Amanda Todd’s sad saga

Amanda Todd committed suicide in her family’s home last Wednesday, October 10. She preceded her death with a devastating YouTube video, published to the world on September 7, in which she details her vicious downward spiral. It began with a moment of youthful naiveté: In seventh grade, she flashed her breasts to a stranger on social cam site BlogTV. A year later, the mysterious bastard found her, and threatened to release a screenshot of her body to “everyone,” which he did. Twice. It was ultimately that photo that pushed Todd to end her own, short, painful teenage life.

Anonymous names a name

In the time since Todd’s untimely death, which has sparked an investigation and calls for anti-bullying legislation in her home country of Canada, many have been on the hunt for the person who released the photo that haunted Todd to death. And on Monday, the world got its answer — or, at least, an answer. A number of anonymously posted documents on Pastebin, a popular hacker document trading website, name one Kody Maxson, of New Westminster, British Columbia, as Todd’s blackmailer. A YouTube video featuring a Guy Fawkes-clad anon followed, further implicating Maxson, who Anonymous indicated went by the screen name “kody1206.”

The Pastebin posts also provide a birthday, an address in Surrey, BC, a phone number, two email addresses, and links to kody1206’s various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and more.

Soon after the most widely cited Pastebin post went live, Vice wrote about the allegations against Maxson. It later updated the story with an image containing a number of pieced together screenshots of maps and Google searches that apparently show a link between Maxson and Todd. The image, which reportedly came from Anonymous, also shows a screenshot of Maxson’s Facebook page, on which he claimed to be a Facebook employee. Jezebel and others later reported Maxson’s Facebook employment as fact.

In what seems to be nothing more than an incredible coincidence, the so-called “doxing” (Internet slang for outing) of Maxson happened just as a man named Dakota William Shain Maxson of Surrey, BC, appeared in court on charges of sexual assault and “sexual interference” of a 16-year-old.

Maxson court appearance

Kody. Dakota. Sexual assault. Sixteen-year-old. Everything seemed to fall into place.

Who is Kody Maxson?

Evidence of Maxson’s involvement in the world of online child pornography — and, specifically, his hobby of getting young girls to show off their bodies on cam websites like TinyChat and BlogTV — dates back to as early as 2010, around the same time that Todd made her fateful mistake.

A video entitled “2010 Capper Awards,” from the Daily Capper — a now-defunct group or individual that closely followed the dark world of social cam sites and the people (often young girls, dubbed “camwhores”) who made names for themselves there —  dubbed kody1206 a “hero” for blackmailing another young girl called Peyton. In one of her videos, Peyton named her blackmailer: Dakota William Shain Maxson.

Yes, he went by Kody. Yes, he was Canadian.

(Another Daily Capper video, from December 2010, mentions Amanda Todd, but makes no mention of Maxson.)

Maxon’s email address was also one of many leaked in June 2011 by Anonymous sub-group LulzSec. And his username can be repeatedly linked to various TinyChat sessions and other websites linked to child pornography.

To recap: We know that a Canadian by the name of Dakota “Kody” William Shain Maxson was accused of blackmailing a young girl back in 2010. We also know this person went by the name “kody1206” online. Further, we know that a person by the same name was recently charged with sexual assault of a 16-year-old.

What we do not know is that this is the same person who plagued Todd — and it is increasingly difficult to substantiate this claim, let alone report that it is true.

Things fall apart

Soon after the publication of information from Anonymous, its validity began to crumble. On Monday afternoon — a day before most outlets picked up the story about Maxson — CKNW in Vancouver reported that the address Anonymous had published was not Maxson’s. The woman who lived there had called the police, and asked that people stop sending her threats.

Seeing the crack in Anonymous’s case, we got in touch with Facebook to find out if Kody Maxson had ever worked for the social network. As suspected, he hadn’t.

“This is absolutely NOT true,” a Facebook spokeswoman told Digital Trends via email this morning. “No individual with that name works or has ever worked at Facebook.” During a follow-up phone conversation, she exclaimed that Facebook “doesn’t even have an office in British Columbia,” and couldn’t understand why anyone would take the Anonymous dox seriously. She thanked us for getting in touch — nobody else, it seems, tried to sort out this particular detail.

So now we knew both Maxson’s alleged address and employment information were incorrect. We called the phone number provided in the Pastebin doc. It didn’t work — shocker. We also sent an email to one of the addresses — the one linked repeatedly to Maxson and his kody1206 screen name — and are waiting to hear back. (Of course, we will have a big update if we do.)

In addition, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a statement late Tuesday saying that claims about Maxson were “unfounded.”

“One of our big challenges right now, is false information that is being spread by people who appear to be trying to use Amanda’s story to do harm or make a profit,” said Sgt. Peter Thiessen, a RCMP spokesman, in the statement.

We reached out to Thiessen to clarify: Were the allegations against Maxson “false” or simply “unfounded?”

“The info we received thru varying sources regarding a particular individual are ‘unfounded,'” Thiessen told us in an email. He refused to say whether Maxson was a suspect in the investigation.

Maxson defends himself, blames another

Earlier today, the Vancouver Sun caught up with Maxson outside the court house in Surrey, BC, where he admitted that he knew Todd “in a sense,” but said that he was not her tormenter.

“I tried to help, to do everything I could,” he told the Sun. He added that “none of it’s true,” when asked about Anonymous’s allegations, and that he was “really pissed off and annoyed,” and “feeling betrayed.”

He also said that he’d received “thousands” of death threats over Facebook, and more over email. His mother described it as a “lynch mob.”

To add yet another twist into this tale, Maxson said he knows who Todd’s blackmailer really is: A 26-year-old man who goes by “Viper” on the Web, and lives in New York City. Maxson said he’d contacted both the RCMP and the New York Police Department about Viper.

And thus, the cycle of doxxing began again. A person who goes by the name Anonymous New Jersey, and compiled the original dox on Maxson, reacted to Maxon’s claim by “doxxing” a person who goes by the handle “Viper2323.” And once again, the details do not match up — the age and location of the person are not what Maxson claimed. But Viper does have prominent TinyChat profile, and has a few nods from the Daily Capper. For now, however, that’s all anyone has to go on, nothing more.

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