Bus monitor bullying case shows social media’s activism potential


By now Karen Klein is a household name, her 15 minutes of fame virally inserted into our collective awareness worldwide via YouTube. The suburban Rochester bus monitor bullied by middle school students provided numerous lessons and insights, after the shock value faded.

Bullying is a serious problem in American society, and probably has been for generations. Now, however, like cigarettes and drunken driving kill and women and minorities deserve full and equal rights, bullying is emerging from its closeted status, once rationalized as a “get over it” right of passage.

Celebrities speak out against it. And now we know that it’s not only the younger and weaker whom bullies target, but adults as well.

Ending bullying will take generations, as we’ve seen with equal rights, smoking rules and changing attitudes about drunken driving. Like domestic abuse, bringing it into the open is a powerful tool for change. In that way, Karen Klein’s suffering — and the recording of it — produced a rare opportunity to witness, learn and initiate change.

None of that would be possible without YouTube, in this case. Nor would the $640,000 raised [and counting] on her behalf from all corners. As happened with the campaign to find African warlord Joseph Kony in March, vehicles like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others link us to an event that even five or 10 years ago could not have happened. Indiegogo is a site designed to handle these outpourings, a place where people can donate to causes like this one.

The lesson for crisis managers is that an event like this can materialize from almost any quarter. Did the school system or bus company ever envision such an event? Did anyone? Can you prepare yourself, your company, your non-profit for such an experience? Yes, indeed you can, but first you must imagine it, plan for it and prepare in advance.

The reach and impact of the social media that now stitch us together into one huge village is so great that the seventh-grade bullies received death threats and their parents had to report these “two wrongs don’t make a right” activities to police.

For her part, Klein plans to donate money to autism charities and others. Mostly, she just wants her life back.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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