The Internet can be so awful and so wonderful—often at the same time.
You can’t write about the Web this week without talking about Karen Klein, a bus monitor in Greece, N.Y. Earlier this week, a video surfaced on YouTube depicting Klein being verbally attacked by a bunch of adolescents.
The taunts and insults get so bad that eventually Karen Klein begins to cry.
There’s something viscerally upsetting about watching the videos—stirring up our best and our worst emotions. By turns it makes you want to leap through your computer screen to throttle the bullies or do anything to stop this poor woman feeling this way.
And the Internet rallied to Klein’s aid.
With rather startling rapidity, the vicious little monsters who abused this woman were not only attacked themselves verbally, they were quickly doxed. Their personal information was published on Reddit. Reddit quickly removed the info, because they are, after all, just children. They may be little horrors—and I think all of us can thank God that what we did at that age was not posted on YouTube—but real-world vigilantism is not appropriate here.
But if talk is cheap (and Internet comments even cheaper), then the Internet put its money where its keyboard is.
Users raised nearly $300,000 to send Klein on vacation.
In a saga that is frankly just ridiculous, much beloved webcomic, The Oatmeal, is the target of a legal battle that has gotten way out of control. Matthew Inman, the artist behind The Oatmeal, wrote a post a year ago complaining that his comics had been stolen by rival site, FunnyJunk. This week, FunnyJunk sued The Oatmeal for $20,000 for hosting false statements about FunnyJunk. And then Inman unleashed the fury.
He essentially turned the lawsuit papers into a comic, and he started a charity campaign to raise $20,000 for the National Wildlife Foundation and American Cancer Society. He raised that amount in 64 minutes. The total’s now over $200,000.
In the meantime, Funnyjunk lawyer Charles Carreon has been the target of security attacks on his site and a barrage of obscene emails. In the comic graphic, Inman said, “It’s interesting to watch a man with his dick in a hornet’s nest try to solve the problem by tossing his balls in as well.”
And that, it turns out, is exactly what Carreon did. Annoyed by the fact that Inman’s fans rose to his defense—if only in the form of some mean tweets and obscene emails—Carreon chose to personally sue Inman, the two charities, and the site hosting the fundraiser.
It’s tough to be the one suing a couple charities. And Carreon is clearly doing it as a bit of trolling of his own. He says he wants to make sure the charities get all of the money that is raised for them. But if he actually thought Inman were going to pocket the dough, he’d wait until Inman had done so, then he’d have a much better case, and Inman would face much stiffer penalties. So it seems all Carreon really wants to do is troll Inman at this point and insinuate that he would keep the money.
Inman, who has never told his fans to troll Carreon, has been moved to pity Carreon. He’s posted an open letter, essentially saying, Look man, you’re now on the wrong end of some fairly serious Internet trolling, but you’re a n00b. You are not equipped for this.
People can be so vicious and generous on the Internet. The same events, it seems, bring out their best and their worst sides. It’s not really unique to the Web, I suppose, it’s just that it’s newly visible.
The video of the kids harassing their bus monitor reminds us that it’s not the Internet. It’s people. These kids haven’t yet been socialized out of this kind of behavior. This was a horrible situation before the Internet got involved. It’s all Lord of the Flies out there, online and off. Society teaches those kids a lesson eventually, and that kind of behavior becomes pretty rare IRL by the time you’re an adult.
The Internet empowers people to say and do what they want, and sometimes that means unleashing the vicious little bastard hidden in all of us. When they founded Reddit, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian created hundreds of fake accounts to post on the site. They did it partly to make the site seem active, but they also did it to encourage the kind of discussion and posting that they wanted to see take root.
But the Internet’s empowerment can also mean exposing our finer instincts. When we drive by a situation like the one on the bus, we can usually only drive on. On the Internet, we can do something else: Offer a word of support—perhaps equally emboldened by our anonymity—or even do something more practical, like make a donation.
That is a lot of what is so compelling about the Internet. The best and the worst of human nature are regularly laid bare for all to see.
Photo via YouTube