There is an inherent power in social media, a power of destructive and healing potential; how social media is wielded, and by whom, dictates which side wins out.
Take the case of 68-year-old New York bus monitor, Karen Klein. Klein's story is a perfect example of how social media can be used destructively to bully, humiliate and degrade an individual. Teasing and tormenting an elderly woman is one thing; putting that episode on YouTube only magnifies the humiliation.
When video of her torment by a group of young male students on a school bus surfaced this month, Klein became an unintentional spokesperson for the anti-bullying campaign. The ten-minute cell phone video of Klein being verbally abused, poked and threatened made all too clear the ugly reality that bullying is not simply a child’s game.
Whatever reason the boys had for posting their video of Klein’s humiliation, they likely did not envision the media storm that was to come. Their YouTube video has been viewed over seven million times. Viewers were outraged that anyone would treat an elderly woman this way. One of those outraged was compelled to act.
Max Sidorov was so moved by Klein's story he set up a fund raising web page to benefit Klein. His idea: to give her the vacation of a lifetime. The goal was to raise $5,000. As of today, Sidorov's campaign has raised $650,00 with over 30, 000 individuals contributing to the dream of giving Klein a well-deserved vacation.
This outpouring of support taps into an increasing global discourse around bullying. A 2011 documentary film called Bully raised awareness about the impact bullying has on kids today. The Dalai Lama recently told an audience of high school students to forsake bullying altogether.
"Violence always brings suffering, so a happier future means peaceful nonviolence ultimately in our mind."
- Dalai Lama
U.S. President Barack Obama has waded into the subject saying that bullying is not simply an "inevitable part of growing up"; celebrities such as Lady Gaga are using their social media presence to educate followers about bullying.
Yet the footage of Klein, flustered, frustrated and in tears at the hands of her tormentors has proven to be stronger than the words of any politician or celebrity.
What do you think? Does social media's ability to bring disparate communities together outweigh its potential to do harm?