Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What we've become

I’ve seen some pretty horrendous things, thanks to my old pal the internet. I’ve watched that disturbing footage of a guy being hit by a train that he didn’t see coming. And I’ve witnessed two girls demonstrating the kind of behaviour that would get them kicked out of the crockery department of John Lewis. The fact is, there’s no shortage of troubling sights just waiting to make you regret having eyes. But I can safely say that I’ve found my limit - I’ve finally discovered something that I just can’t watch. It runs for ten minutes and nine seconds; and I lasted about a minute and a half.

It’s a bunch of middle-school students yelling abuse at their 68 year-old bus monitor. Having called Karen Huff Klein a “dumb-ass”, a “fat-ass” and “elephant”, they threaten to “piss all over [her] door” and “fucking take a crap in [her] mouth”. In addition, they speculate that “she probably eats deodorant because she can’t afford real food” and tell her  "you're so ugly your kid should kill themselves." As it happens, her son had done just that ten years previously.

The video is here. See how long you can stand it:

As the story went viral this afternoon, it popped up on a number of news sites, along with transcripts of the kids’ astonishingly malevolent attacks. At least that saved me from having to watch the whole thing. I don’t need to see a near seventy year-old widow being bullied until she cries.

It wasn’t long before the story hit Reddit, as the social news site’s users quickly voted it up to the front page. Somewhat predictably, incensed Redditors  were soon posting details of the school in question, emailing district officials in the area, and even adding a link to Karen’s facebook page. Other users, looking for a more vengeful outlet for their disgust, chose to post links to the kids’ own pages, as well as their parents' addresses. Threats to vandalise their homes, beat them senseless and harass their families swiftly followed.

Thankfully, not everyone was quite so filled with blood-lust. One Redditor, calling himself Max S, decided to set up a donations page on Indiegogo. Since Karen’s Bus Monitor salary is a matter of public record, Max wrote on his page “She doesn't earn nearly enough ($15,506) to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by. Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!” When I started writing this, the figure was at $5,500. It’s now at $25,040, and appears to be increasing exponentially.

As well as monetary donations, a number of facebook pages have been set up in tribute to Karen, offering people a chance to add their sympathetic messages of support. Many have shared their own stories about suffering at the hands of bullies. Others are content to call her a saint, a role model, and tell her that the whole world loves her.

Some people will look at this story and see it as a pointed commentary on how an era of lazy parenting has created a generation of vicious, amoral monsters. Others may choose to see the silver lining, and celebrate the fact that over $25,000 dollars has been raised in a matter of hours, as a charitable gesture to make someone’s day.

In fact, this isn’t really a story about good vs evil at all. It’s a story about the internet, and how its omnipresence in every aspect of our lives has changed the way we think, communicate and behave.

It’s a reminder that, when witnessing tragedy or misfortune, our first instinct is not to stop and help, but to record and upload.

It’s a reminder that the act of trolling has become so prevalent, that anonymous online cruelty is no longer enough of an outlet. Face-to-face attacks are what really count.

It’s a reminder that anyone can achieve worldwide notoriety at a moment’s notice, sometimes for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And it’s a reminder that, all too often, we imagine that any humiliation and suffering can be endured, just as long as there’s some kind of financial reward at the end of it.

In an interview with her local news station, Klein said that she just wanted an apology. In all honesty, I wouldn’t even know where to start.

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