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.

Cars

Ford teams up with Walmart to study consumer response to autonomous delivery

Last week it was Ford and VW, and this week Ford and Walmart are signaling a desire to work together on autonomous vehicles solutions. Ford and the giant retailer will study consumer reactions to self-driving delivery vehicles.
Emerging Tech

Curiosity rover active and drilling again after computer issue

The Curiosity rover has succeeded in drilling a hole into the tough bedrock that previously defeated it, allowing imaging and collection of samples. The rover had been incapacitated for a few weeks due to problems with its computer.
Music

The best new music this week: Charles Bradley, Muse, and more

Are you looking for the best new music? Each week, we scour the internet to find the most compelling new releases just for you. On tap this week: Charles Bradley, J Mascis, Muse, and Smino.
Gaming

Get your best glider and jump into our 'Fortnite' floating rings challenge guide

The Fortnite week 7 challenges have arrived in season 6. The biggest challenge of them all in this rather quiet week is no doubt the skydive through floating rings challenge. In this guide, we will help you maximize your rings per match so…
Computing

Urban legends for the digital age: The best scary stories from the internet

In need of some simple scares this Halloween? We've combed the internet for the best creepypastas, urban legends, and scary stories. From found footage YouTube videos to a deceptively scary wiki, these stories are sure to spook.
Mobile

WhatsApp finally gives in to the lure of cash-generating ads

WhatsApp's co-founders always said their messaging app would never show ads, but once the pair quit the company, it seemed inevitable that its owner, Facebook, would find a way to incorporate them.
Mobile

Shazam hooks up with Instagram Stories for another way to share songs

The latest update for Apple-owned Shazam lets iPhone users share music tracks to Instagram Stories in a few quick taps. To enable the feature, just make sure you have the latest version of Shazam loaded on your handset.
Social Media

Dine and dash(board): Make a Yelp reservation from your car’s control panel

Already in the car, but can't decide where to eat? Yelp Reservations can now be added to some dashboard touchscreens. Yelp Reservations searches for restaurants within 25 miles of the vehicle's location.
Computing

Hackers sold 120 million private Facebook messages, report says

Up to 120 million private Facebook messages were being sold online by hackers this fall. The breach was first discovered in September and the messages were obtained through unnamed rogue browser extensions. 
Web

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. You're in luck -- we've gathered 23 of the best subreddits to help…
Social Media

Facebook opens pop-up stores at Macy’s, but they’re not selling the Portal

Facebook has opened pop-up stores at multiple Macy's, though they're not selling Facebook's new Portal device. Instead, they're showcasing small businesses and brands that are already popular on Facebook and Instagram.
Social Media

Facebook Messenger will soon let you delete sent messages

A feature coming to Facebook Messenger will let you delete a message for up to 10 minutes after you send it. The company promised the feature months ago and this week said it really is on its way ... "soon."
Social Media

Pinterest brings followed content front and center with full-width Pin format

Want to see Pinterest recommendations, or just Pins from followed users? Now Pinners can choose with a Pinterest Following feed update. The secondary feed eliminates recommendation and is (almost) chronological.
Smart Home

Facebook's Alexa-enabled video-calling devices begin shipping

Facebook's Portal devices are video smart speakers with Alexa voice assistants built in that allow you to make calls. The 15-inch Portal+ model features a pivoting camera that follows you around the room as you speak.