An Explanation.

by zchamu on January 15, 2014

I legitimately expected 5 people to watch that video.

Seriously. Nobody reads this blog. Mainly because I never update it.

Going viral was not part of the plan.

When I originally made the video, it was because I kept thinking about Amanda after she died. I never met her, but her story stayed with me. I kept going back and reading her tweet stream, wishing I had reached out when she was alive. But I missed the chance. She was gone.

And I thought about how all I knew her through was her twitter stream, and how at least with a twitter stream it’s all just…. you. What you choose to write and put down.  No interpretation, no editorializing, no seeing someone through the lens of someone else’s experience. And how someday someone will (maybe, ha) look at my twitter stream and see what I’ve left here and maybe get a glimpse of me. And that I would hope that what I wrote would stay with someone in a positive way, just like Amanda’s final tweet has stayed with me. So I made the video it and shared it with a group of people at BlissDom Canada, to remind everyone of their own legacies, and – the bigger point – to pass on her message. Embrace life even when it gives you a shit deal. Forgive. Carry on.

Maybe I overstepped. Maybe it wasn’t my place. I don’t know.

When I made the video, I kept in almost all of the tweets she made after she got sick. The only ones I left out were the ones that contextually didn’t make sense (certain replies). Other than that, I left it as she did, because it’s how she told her story.

I tried to find out more information about her in order to tell her family about the video. I do not want them to be blindsided by it. But then it got picked up by Jezebel without my knowledge and without credit – meaning that the note I wrote in the original blog post asking anyone who knew her personally to contact me would not be shared. I was quite upset because of that (and also because, come on Jezebel, you know better.)  It felt shitty to make it an issue of CONTENT STEALERS! given the subject matter – but to a big site like Jezebel, that’s what they understand.  And to their credit, they reached out and now provide proper attribution, so that anyone can now find my full blog post with context.

Then Buzzfeed called, and they allowed me to set the context. I explained the story of how I came to make the video, and my misgivings about it, and the reason I ultimately wanted to share it: Because it’s important. Because she can’t. And she deserved to have her story told, and I could do it, so I did it.

It’s almost like an unauthorized biography – except, it’s all her own words. No editorial. I did not have permission to make or post the video from Amanda or her family, but I hope I did it sensitively and in such a way that her memory is honourably preserved.

So here we are. And I hope you can keep Amanda’s words with you, and if you get a chance, reach out to someone and share kindness.

Pay attention.

Be good to each other.

ETA: I have had to close comments temporarily because I don’t have time to moderate right now. They’ll be back up shortly. :)

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{ 45 comments }

mb January 15, 2014 at 7:57 pm

you did a good thing

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Thanks, mb.

michelle January 15, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Saw the story in the Toronto Star newspaper. I haven’t watched the video yet. Considering I was tearing up just reading what this is about. I’m sure to be a bubbling mess when I watch it, so best to leave it until I get home. But I wanted to message you to let you know you’ve already touched my heart. Through my own personal losses I too have learned the most amazing lesson – life is short. Forgive, surround yourself with people you love, be generous. take care

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Thanks, michelle.

Bob LeDrew January 15, 2014 at 9:08 pm

More like an unauthorized AUTObiography, or an digital oral history of someone’s life. To this viewer, it’s moving. I hope that when her family sees it, they will feel the same way.
Bob LeDrew recently posted..Episode 34: Happy Hallowe’en – spooky poem edition

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Yes. I hope so too.

Diane McNeil January 15, 2014 at 9:46 pm

My baby brother died last year suddenly, and I would love to read old words of his, like he lives on in the universe and our hearts. What you did was a good thing. Certainly furthering the message of forgiveness is paramount.

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Hi Diane, thanks for commenting. And yes. Forgiveness is a lesson we all need.

CL90 January 16, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Not everyone agrees that this was a good thing. I will once again reiterate, this was a very invasive thing you did, even more weird that you did not know her or her family….or were asked to do this by the deceased, her family or friends. I am moved by lots of things on the internet, none that would ever make me want to take a stranger’s words, set them to music and make a video out of them, for whatever the purpose, whether for self promotion, or to be a do-gooder. Even if your intentions were heartfelt, honest and decent, it was almost stalkerish of you to produce this video. I am surprised her family hasn’t contacted you in extreme anger.

KrisDStar (@SweetAphrodite) January 19, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Her posts were public on twitter.

What exactly would her family say? Don’t use public posts and photos? Tweets that are public are considered Fair Use. I doubt everyone who used photos and words of Mandela contacted his family before they made their videos, blogs, and posts.

Part of the ability to use social media is the ability to understand that what you say, do, post, etc on social media is public. It can be used in public ways, by the public. This isn’t a difficult concept to grasp.

It could also be considered stalkerish for you to come and post here.

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Hi CL90, I appreciate your response. I will take everything you said and reflect on it. Thank you.

steel.magnolia January 16, 2014 at 4:20 pm

I found the story on BuzzFeed and having lost numerous family members over the years … I wish that there had been time enough for them to leave us this digital trail of thoughts to see. My two nieces and nephew would give most anything to see their mother’s own words in any way they could, besides a few appointment book entries. Sometimes people touch us in the most unusual of ways, and I don’t think that what you did was wrong or “stalkerish” … your heart was moved and pure of intention in wanting to bring tribute to Amanda’s last months here. I found the video and music beautiful. Thank you. I hope her family does find it and gets in touch and you are able to get their take on it, good or bad. I think since her brother shared with her Twitter followers an update on her death, and haven’t since removed her account, that they weren’t unaware that her words would be able to be found by anyone years later. I hope they will be touched that you cared enough about their girl to do something like this for her.

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Thanks steel magnolia. I hope so too.

Robert Rose January 16, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Shannon….

I watched this last night after finding it on Reddit – and then started a conversation (privately as your Youtube video asked) with my friends and family about it.

I really wrestle with this. What you did was beautiful, considerate and certainly made with love. But good doesn’t necessarily mean right.

The question that I’m wrestling with is “when does a person become public?” As we’ve seen (literally in the last week) a tweet is considered Fair Use. But is the entire stream of someone’s life a “body of work” that should be considered as such? Frankly, I don’t know. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of tribute videos to Mandela when he died using his words and likeness. I’m certain nobody asked permission of his family if they could do it. Nor, did they alert the family that they actually did it. And yet everybody applauds. So, is what you did right then? Was she a public figure through her public tweets? Are we all public figures now in varying degree? Maybe.

On the other hand – what you did was (in this case) clearly beautiful. But what if it hadn’t been? What if you’d actually not cared for her very much and created a video that wasn’t nearly as touching – or worse. Would that be different?

I think you’ve actually touched on something really interesting here. You may not have planned on it – but I think you’re about to be the center of a very timely and important conversation.

My best to you….

~rr

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Hi Robert, thanks for commenting. Yes. There are a lot of aspects of this that are thought provoking. And this is all kind of “new” – new technologies, new boundaries, figuring out what the new rules are. That’s part of my original post – 10 years ago we weren’t leaving these kinds of digital trails. Now we are, and what does it mean to us personally as well as for those around us. I guess we are now part of figuring this all out.

Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it.

Crunk Juice January 17, 2014 at 1:56 am

I’m sorry that you got duped by this fake twitter account…

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Hi Crunk. Thanks for commenting. Will take your comments under advisement.

Crunk Juice January 30, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I did a little research, and confirmed the hoax. Death records are publicly available from the province of Ottawa, and there isn’t one for an Amanda, or anyone under similar circumstances, on or around the date of death alleged by the Twitter account.

Add to that the fact that no one on Twitter mentioned the death until months afterward. Not one of her followers seemed to notice or care.

Also, now weeks later, and not a single person has come forward as knowing Amanda, or even knowing anything about her. Neither yourself, nor the Ottawa Citizen were able to find a single person who even knew of Amanda before the Twitter account became publicized.

zchamu January 30, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Hi Crunk,

Ottawa is not a province, it’s a city.

Thanks for commenting.

nelly January 17, 2014 at 8:35 pm

I debated for a while whether or not I should comment on any of this. I tried *very hard* to stay away from all manner of dialogue on this issue, actively muted any mentions of twitter handles and tried to go about my days as best as I can this week.
Except, I couldn’t. Because this is Ottawa; everyone knows everybody, and we have two degrees of separation, not six. So I heard about it from likely and unlikely people, and my very abrasive “I don’t want to talk about any of this!” responses haven’t worked.

My issue with this entire thing was the use of it at Blissdom to start with. I thought it was inconsiderate. I knew it could have been done better. Swap the name with a fake one, blur it, or do something that keeps the story you want to tell but gives the person some degree of respect (or the family, in this case). It wouldn’t have lost its impact – I know, because I’ve done that before. I think I was vocal about it online when Blissdom was happening, but the hype of #conference makes replies almost impossible.

Fine. We move on.

Except, we can’t. This week brings back the feelings of utter uselessness that many people felt when trying to reach out and help an ailing individual last year.
There are conversations about this being a fake account, some dark way of sunsetting one’s online presence and so forth. And we hope it’s not.
Then there are conversations about page views, hits, followers, going viral, and making impressions out of somebody else’s (a daughter’s, a sister’s) story. And we hope it’s not about that.

Then I check to see if the initial video post is still around. It is.

And I am disappointed. Not in you specifically Shannon – I don’t know you very well. We follow each other on Twitter and you sound very nice. But I’m responding to the handling of this specific case. I’m disappointed in the circles we work in, with and travel around.

They see no problem with the use of content like this for illustrative purposes at conferences – I don’t recall seeing notes about reaching out to the family on such a massive scale at that time. They get outraged over copyright because a pseudojourno site lifts the video for page views. And they pass on advice about living your life to the max and being kind to one another, then share the ever living daylights out of someone’s last tweets. Sadly, I can guarantee you they’re not scouring the Internet looking for anyone in need of attention or company and offering theirs as quickly as they’re pressing “share” buttons.
They’re probably reading this on their mobile device, in transit, while avoiding all manner of eye contact with the person to their left or right.

So what was the point, really?

On my end, I learned a few things from this experience both as someone working in the digital marketing field and as an individual. And for that, I’ll say thank you.

But I really hope we move to a place where we can tell our own stories, or borrow others’, with a little more attention paid to the ripple effect it creates for all those who weren’t visibly attached.

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Hi Nelly,

Thanks for this. I know this can’t have been easy for you to comment. I did not realize what kind of impact it would have on those who had been talking to her online at the time. For not being considerate about that, I apologize.

I have learned a lot through this entire process and were I to do this all over again I would definitely do some things differently. I will absolutely take your feedback and learn from it.

None of this was about pageviews or publicity. I just wanted to share her story and share the thoughts her story had sparked in my own head. That was it. And usually nobody notices anything I write here, heh, so I didn’t expect this to be any different.

But I do disagree with you that nobody has changed. There have been several things that have come out of this that show me that at least a few people have taken the message to heart.

Again, thanks for commenting. I appreciate it.

Shannon

Matt Harris January 17, 2014 at 9:03 pm

I’d love to get in contact with you for an interview for 1310News in Ottawa.

Gi January 18, 2014 at 3:45 am

Well, I just found out about her and the twitter account. Hoax or not, it’s good to remind us that though people seem ordinary, everyone has something unique to show and we will all leave things behind. She did do her best to enjoy the ride and we should be more like that.

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Hi Gi, thanks. Yes. I think it’s a good lesson for all of us.

Cherub January 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm

This story reeks of a hoax. What you did was lovely, but I don’t think Amanda was real. I have seen this happen before in an online support group and it was all lies.

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Hi Cherub, you know, it’s possible this was all a hoax, but it didn’t ring that way for me. But thanks for commenting.

Michelle January 20, 2014 at 8:02 pm

This bothers me a great deal. I find it morally reprehensible for this blogger to use someone else’s story for their own gain. I understand social media is public, but I also see you understand it is NOT YOUR story, but you chose to use it for your own personal gain.
If you are at all involved in social media then you must know there is a vlogger gaining attention/subscribers as he vlogs his own journey through treatment for brain cancer. (Note: His OWN story).
Hoax or not, to use a tragedy that is not your own to gain viewership is sad and bothersome.
I was trying to let this go as I went through the day, but then I notice you continue to promote and gain attention throughout the day.

To each their own, if you can look yourself in the mirror and say you did a good thing, I guess that’s all that matters. I couldn’t do it.

zchamu January 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Hi Michelle, thanks for responding. And thank you for your feedback – I am learning a lot through all of this and I will definitely take your words and learn from them. Thanks.

bridget January 29, 2014 at 8:32 am

but i don’t see how you are learning a great deal. all of your responses to detractors seem very terse and emotionless. regardless of whether the twitter account was a hoax or not, you do not seem genuinely moved by the fact that you used another person’s death, someone you did not even know, someone you probably didn’t represent properly (since the song you posted her tweets with was adult contemporary vs anything near the subculture she aligned herself with), it just all reads disingenuous and honestly i -hate- feeling that way because generally i’m a very open, and i’d like to think, compassionate person. but everything about this just seems weird and like a ploy for attention.

if you didn’t want or expect this to blow up, or if you had any respect for her family, you wouldn’t have allowed all the blogs to use it before clearing it with her parents…and pleading ignorance when you have a ton of blogs and post all over the place just doesn’t seem right either.

ugh. i am sorry because i don’t want to seem like a bully, but there is just something about this whole situation that i find deeply disturbing

Neets January 21, 2014 at 10:13 am

You beautiful soul. I was balling my eyes out watching this. A beautiful tribute to a young life taken far too soon. Love your work!
Neets recently posted..Turning Up The Heat

Don from the states January 24, 2014 at 6:11 am

Not only do I feel that this fake. I am going big balls and calling you out for orchestrating this whole thing. Heck the picture even looks like you, all it takes is a simple Google Image search to deduce that much. If this Amanda gal was real then the brother, friends, or some other family members would have come forward by now. Also the twitter feed has no tweets of any scans or visits to the doctor before the tweet about the doctors office calling wanting to discuss the results. Also there are treatments for GBM, even though it is a monster. Even without treatment the average life span is around 6 months. With treatment people can sometimes stretch it out up to a few years. Heck occasionally a rare few like California based psychologist Ben Williams beat the monster. I find it odd that a young girl would just give up even if the shot of beating it is super long, most young people would at least go down fighting. Just up and quitting your job, traveling, and seeking no treatment doesn’t seem in the psyche of a 20 something. Finally when GBM does take control your mental function goes out the window. To be that articulate 5 days before a person dies does not add up. The ball is in your court. Prove us doubters wrong or repent and volunteer at the cancer ward of your local hospital.

bridget January 26, 2014 at 1:43 am

I agree with you completely.

zchamu January 27, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Hi Don and Bridget. I’ll be quite clear: I am not and nor have I ever pretended to be Amanda. I did not falsify anything, and I’ve told my own full truth here – that I came across her stream, it touched me, I made a video and that was that. As I’ve stated elsewhere, it’s possible the stream was a fake. I don’t think so. But if it is, it was not faked by me.

Have a good day, and thanks for commenting.

bridget January 27, 2014 at 9:02 pm

but i mean, you couldn’t have just stumbled upon her account, she was following you according to your video. obviously someone else has access to her account since they posted about her demise, have you tried sending “her” a DM to see if her brother would respond to you? or try contacting twitter?

zchamu January 28, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Hi Bridget, yes, she was following me – but I wasn’t following her, not until after her brother tweeted about her death. I have not sent a DM (I felt it pointless as the owner of the account was gone) and I doubt twitter would release any information about any user.

Shannon Lynn January 24, 2014 at 7:26 pm

I just wanted to comment on you. I can see that you are a good, kind, stand up person for respond to criticism with such poise and not fighting or arguing but respecting others, even when they are not very nice in their comments to you. I think what you did was very nice. God bless!

bridget January 26, 2014 at 1:38 am

so you didn’t know her, yet she was following you on twitter?

bridget January 26, 2014 at 1:42 am

seriously, this account reads like what a non goth would think a goth would like. she has no postings of her friends, pics of her life, she doesn’t follow bands, she talks about wanting to find a black christmas tree, she magically wants to talk to her mom right before she dies, she goes into the hospital knowing she is going to die (did she OD? does ottowa have euthanasia?) her brother from the family she was estranged from for 5+ years suddenly can log onto her account to say she passed…it all seems too perfect, too after school special to be real. plus the fact that you claim not to know her, but the video you posted, months after he death, when you arbitrarily found her twitter account, clearly states that she is following your twitter account. why or how did you not manage to reach out to someone on twitter who you were apparently friends with, that had terminal cancer, yet were moved enough to make a video about her life makes no sense.

i agree with the commenter who thinks that you orchestrated the whole thing. i think you made this account (seriously there are so few twitter accounts that are years old with so few tweets) and then wrote a story for your character, then made a super heartfelt video about it.

c.rich January 28, 2014 at 12:15 am

It seems fake to me as well. I’m not going to point the finger at Shannon because really I have no idea. I mean people follow other people’s twitter accounts all the time and then forget. But I am going to list some things that seemed strange to me.

1.) No biopsy? In order to diagnose the tumor, the doctors, in most cases, would have had to perform a biopsy. But looking at the timeline of events leading up to and after being diagnosed, there is no mention of that. Doesn’t even seem to be time for it. There would be a considerable amount of recovery time involved from that.

2.)Nobody seems to know this girl in real life. No obituary has been found. No one she interacted with on twitter has actually met her. It’s been about a week since this video went viral, and no one has popped up to say that they knew her. I’m assuming, when she tweeted about the #goc, she meant Government of Canada. So she worked for the government, she traveled, she went to conventions, dabbled in modeling, she had family, etc. But no one has come forward to say that they have at least met her.

3.) People have used the banality of what she tweets about as proof that her twitter must be real. But I agree with Bridget, her life is a little too banal. She never tweets about anything a wider audience wouldn’t understand. She tweets almost exclusively about work. But not once does she clue you in to what she actually does. She occasionally will throw in a tweet here and there to identify that she’s a goth. It’s not how a typical twitter feed looks like. And some of her tweets just seem off.

4.)She’s a young single woman and she follows a good number of parent/social media bloggers. Why would a young single self proclaimed goth woman have a particular interest in their twitter accounts? She doesn’t follow her favorite bands or celebrities, like Bridget mentioned above. Which is fine, not everyone uses their twitter to follow the lives of the rich and famous. Still odd. But typically when you see a twitter account who follows many tweeters who have the words, “Writer, social entrepreneur, blogger, etc.” In their description, their using their account for networking. You wouldn’t be following these people to make friends, unless you’re already part of that community. And Amanda wasn’t. She was a goth that worked in the government.

5.)The fact that she was able to “leave her iPhone” on the table and go traveling for 3 months? Possibly alone? She had advanced glibolastoma multiforme. She had to have been suffering from at least some of the symptoms at this point. She would have been taking a cocktail of medicines to keep other symptoms at bay, such as seizures, vomiting, tiredness, brain swelling, and nausea. And the medication typically has a whole list of side effects she would have been dealing with. She would have needed to get refills at some point. It just doesn’t seem plausible. And I’m not saying people can’t travel with advanced cancer.
My mother did, but she was miserable the whole time and we ended up going home early.
Going to forests, beaches, getting drunk, and dancing for 3 months. That’s exhausting even when you don’t have cancer. I would also think, that 4 days away from dying of brain cancer, you wouldn’t physically be able to tweet.

This wouldn’t be the first time someone on the internet pulled off a hoax like this. But certainly, even if this is a hoax, it doesn’t negate any of the emotions this has brought out in people.

zchamu January 28, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Hi c.rich, thanks for commenting. As to your points above… yep, they are very good points. I don’t have any real answers for most of them except for 4, where you point out who she’s following on Twitter. All I can say to that is there’s a very strong social media community in Ottawa, that has lots of meetups and tweetups and lots of people from diverse backgrounds get involved in that community (from personal experience). As for the rest, I don’t know the process of the disease, so I cannot comment on whether it fits with that. The fact that nobody who knew her personally has contacted me is definitely worth noting.

bridget January 29, 2014 at 1:08 am

you have to admit it all seems a little too perfect, i mean even the fact she was following you (or that you only noticed it after she died) doesn’t even make sense.

honestly, it seems like the whole thing was made to be a feel good story that would hit all the blogs (and it did) and it seems even more dubious that now that other people are saying “yeah this seems really fake” that you’re suddenly questioning whether it was ever real in the first place. clearly you’re a smart person, and clearly these thoughts should have crossed your mind before choosing to somehow turn “her” story into your own.

as for sending a DM, clearly her brother has access to the account, and if you felt confident enough to prostitute a stranger’s death for your own gain, i don’t see -why- you wouldn’t bother to contact twitter to see if you could get in touch with her family to get permission before using this as a presentation or putting it online. i mean, you could’ve posted to ottawa goth communities, asked friends of hers on twitter if they had any contact information, there’s a lot you could’ve done before turning her death into your social currency.

the whole thing seems shady. i honestly hope that if you *are* behind this that at some point you’ll come forward and admit it. i honestly would love to believe that you’re not, but you’ve gained so much from her story and only seemed reticent about using her *after* you had some negative backlash that I find it very hard to believe you would be above doing something like that.

Big Muscular Gams February 10, 2014 at 4:11 am

I’m just wondering how much Google AdSense pays on a video that has almost a million views?

bridget February 10, 2014 at 9:38 am

clearly that money should go to charity. since only 5 people were ever supposed to view it.

zchamu February 10, 2014 at 9:44 am

Hi Bridget, if this does end up generating any money it will go to charity.

zchamu February 10, 2014 at 9:43 am

Hi Gams,

I did not place the ads on the video. I didn’t even know they were there til someone told me. When YouTube identified the song, it automatically placed ads on the video – I guess they do that to compensate copyright holders for use of their material (in this case whoever owns the rights to the song). I wish I could take them off but there is no way for me to do so.

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