Saturday, June 23, 2012

Media doesn’t cause bullying

"No Bully" T-shirt design
Photograph from project to create ‘No Bully’ refashioned shirt
In Google+, Deborah Petersen shared a link to a story from, which states that the boys who bullied bus monitor Karen Klein have received death threats via the Internet.

The story began when the boys behavior was posted to the Internet. From the article:
“The verbal abuse was captured in a 10-minute cellphone video recorded Monday by a student of Athena Middle School and later posted to YouTube. The video shows Klein trying her best to ignore the stream of profanity, insults and outright threats. One student taunted: ‘You don’t have a family because they all killed themselves because they don’t want to be near you.’”
 The article states that Klein’s oldest son killed himself 10 years ago and that in the video she eventually appears to break down in tears.

I was interested in this story because of the inspiring way that people rallied to Klein’s support. For me, it showcased the power of social media to inspire people to do the right thing.

Again from the article:
“From around the world, small donations for Karen Klein poured into the crowd-funding site, at one point crashing the site and pulling in a staggering $443,057 by early Friday.”
When sharing the link, Petersen expressed concern that people quoted in the story blame the media for Klein’s abuse.

The story cites Stephen Birchak, whom it describes as a bullying expert, noting that children are growing up in a world of harsh political debates and reality TV shows in which berating people is part of the entertainment and that taking videos of people in humiliating situations and sharing the images has become all too normal.

“Kids are growing up saying,‘OK, this is how you treat your fellow human being and it’s OK to do those things,’” he is quoted as saying.

I share Petersen’s concern at the possibility that people blame the media for bullying.

From personal experience, I know that bullying and ostracism existed before reality television. I remember sitting in classrooms in which the student population seemed united in tormenting a substitute teacher.

Blaming the media only absolves bullies from having to be responsible.

Too many adults, parents and otherwise, still trivialize bullying and treat it like it’s no big deal. Some people even go so far as to blame the victims of bullying.

If anything, credit the media with raising awareness and shaping dialogue about the seriousness of bullying. Among these, the documentary film “Bully” is one very recent example.

In other issues raised by this story: I am heartened by the online support that was extended to Klein, but dismayed that the bullies received death threats online.

A person cannot say that bullying is wrong but then engage in threatening behavior. Their behavior gives tacit approval to the earlier abuse of Klein.

Read the article at

Note: This blog entry expands upon comments left in Google+ in response to the news article. Published June 26, 2012 in the Lake County Record-Bee.

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