Last week the Internet, and American culture in particular, was forced to take a long hard look at our society after four middle school aged children nefariously bullied an elderly bus monitor on the last day of school. In the video the four boys call Karen Klein fat, make several off hand comments about her sweating and call her poor, at one point going on a rant about how cheap her purse was.
My description can’t really convey how aggressive these kids were, you’ll need to watch the video for yourself if you haven’t done so. One thing I can tell you is that these kids did not have the level of respect for Karen that kids should have for their elders. It’s the Disney channel effect: kids are made to believe that they’re the most important thing in the world, and that their wants outweigh the needs of others. Parents exacerbate it and our culture is driving it.
It wasn’t long before an Indiegogo campaign was set up to help Karen retire, and after three days the viral nature of the video drove the total up to over $600,000. Several pundits said what many people were already thinking; that the outpouring of support was in part due to guilt. Most adults could recall school bus bullying since it was the one area where children were left practically unattended at that age.
The major difference that these people forgot to mention was that bullying was mostly a peer to peer matter until lately. A gang of unruly pampered children targeting a weak elderly bus monitor was unheard of. The outpouring of generosity and the backlash against the students is becoming a weekly occurrence however. We’re living in a time of unparalleled accountability, where the combination of ever present video cameras and mass communication has put everyone at risk of getting caught in the act. Here are some other examples of video cameras and public support being teamed together to face off against perceived injustice.
Stuart Chaifetz Wires his Son
Having a mentally handicapped child is a challenging situation. Approximately 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with Autism and we expect that society provides for these kids. Not everyone knows how to react to an outburst from an autistic child, but adults who are familiar with a specific child’s problems are usually familiar with the best solutions. It’s often a simple reassurance or calming reaction that the child craves. If no one else in the world can handle it, you’d expect a teacher who handles autistic children can.
That wasn’t the case last year when Stu Chaifetz started getting reports that his son Akian was acting out in class and assaulting a teacher and an aide. Akian was never violent at home, but the reports continued for months, and Stu was at a loss. That is until one day when he decided to wire his son with a microphone and record his day at school. When he played back the recording he was shocked and disturbed at what he heard. The teachers carried on inappropriate conversations, told Akian to shut up and yelled at him, and engaged in known triggers when speaking to Akian. If you are familiar with autism, you know this is a big problem.
Stuart brought the evidence to the Principal and school board, but had little luck with getting justice. Since the school wouldn’t take appropriate action, Stuart uploaded the audio to YouTube, and took his fight online. The video plea Stuart uploaded on April 20th, 2012 currently has 4.5 million views. Stuart also created a petition on Change.org, which currently has 160,000 signatures.
The school system took some disciplinary actions at the time that Stuart brought the evidence to their attention. They simply transferred the teacher though, and assigned the aides to other classrooms. Stuart felt that the teacher shouldn’t be allowed to teach again, and that was the primary reason he went to YouTube. Whether or not the teacher should be fired is a decision you’ll have to make on your own. Even though Stuart hasn’t gotten the official response he wanted, his campaign started a Facebook group and has increased awareness of teacher bullying for everyone.
Everyone Says They’re Innocent to the Cops
The long lines and crazy behavior associated with black Friday has become some of the Internet’s favorite news fodder in the past few years. We hear about the deals, the fights, and sometimes serious assaults related to the holiday sales that go on across the nation. Last year a woman pulled out a can of pepper spray to ward off her potential Playstation competition. People get crazy, we get it. On rare occasions however, the people who get crazy are the same people you expect to protect you.
On black Friday in 2011, 54 year old Jerald Newman was slammed face first into the floor by a police officer at Wal-Mart after he stuffed a video game under his shirt. He was in a crowd that was fighting over discounted video games, and evidently hid the game so other shoppers wouldn’t steal it from him. Witnesses claim that he wasn’t resisting arrest, but the video showing the aftermath clearly shows that Jerald was on the receiving end of some old fashioned police brutality.
If you look closely, the video also shows several other bystanders recording the incident on their own cell phones. This isn’t the first time that black Friday shoppers have gotten unruly, but it’s possibly the first year that a large percentage of shoppers documented their experiences through amateur videography. The incident also inspired hundreds of other citizens to take it upon themselves to record their own run ins with the law.
At a time when everyone is a potential investigative journalist, police officers need to be careful about how far they bend the law. The officer who supposedly tripped Jerald was put on administrative leave, and the charges against Jerald were dropped due to “insufficient evidence”. Hopefully this incident acts as a reminder to other cops who think they can get a few licks in before they book people they arrest, and believe that they’re above the law when it comes to assaulting suspected criminals.
There’s No Business Like Show Business
If you were to see a cop beating on someone who wasn’t resisting, a teacher verbally abusing her students, or students verbally abusing an old lady, you would be disgusted. The thing is, people don’t behave so badly when someone is looking. These are incidents that previously would have been fleshed out in court in a fraction of the cases. In others, they would have gone unnoticed, remaining a permanent injustice in the memory of the victims. Now, you don’t know who is watching you. You may get away with abhorrent behavior for a minute, but all it takes in one person with a smart phone to increase the jury pool by about 10 million YouTube viewers. Accountability is in.
There are some negative effects of this trend. For the price of accountability, privacy suffers. When polled, most Americans have said that they would trade some of their own privacy for increased protection. When delayed at an airport, the same Americans sulk, whine and complain. Everyone is bullish on accountability until they’re the ones being held accountable. How many of us have no secrets? How many of us text at work, get frustrated with service workers, or express politically incorrect opinions? All of those are serious infractions that could cost you your job, career, and if you’re put on YouTube and labeled as America’s next public enemy, it could ruin your life.
How many times have these interactions been taken out of context? It’s akin to hanging an innocent man for murder because you found the victim dead; we often miss out on the evidence. I’ve always heard that there are three sides to every story; My side, your side, and the truth. We also find ourselves tirelessly fighting for the rights of teachers and police officers one day, and then fighting to enact harsher punishments the next. No one takes the time to consider the implications of their actions, which is why the same people who are protesting in these YouTube mobs are the same people who find themselves starring in one at a later date. We take video at face value and label it the truth, but it’s important to remember that what I post online is ultimately my side of the story.
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4 thoughts on “The Digital Age: Taking Accountability to the Next Level”
This morning I watched a TED talk video that highlights how the consequences of actions can last a lifetime. How can people start over if their transgressions are forever available online? Is there such a thing as “time served” or are there a disproportionate number of life sentences? Anyway, interesting video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2tOp7OxyQ8&feature=youtu.be&a
I watched it since you recommended Janet. Remember that when you go around sharing videos, that you’re recommending that I spend 20 minutes watching it! lol
He’s right about some things. We tolerate a lot of things because it doesn’t touch us. Just like in real life, the subject of a viral video clip can very easily turn out to be you some day. It’s funny how some people spend their whole lives trying to generate viral interest in clips about their busines, but then they let loose a racial epitaph at a comedy club, or freak out on a service worker at McDonalds, and then YouTube can’t share the clip fast enough.
I think time served in these crowdsourced accountability campaigns is directly proportionate to the severity and entertainment value of the offense divided by the number of incidents committed afterward that are more severe or offer a higher entertainment value. lol Honestly though, Star Wars Kid, Joseph Kony, the kids who harassed the bus monitor – they’re probably going to be marked with those scarlet letters for the rest of their life.
Very interesting discussion, Adam. In fact, there are so many varying dilemmas presented here that it’s slightly overwhelming to address them all. However, like you, I believe that as a society we are lacking accountability. And as your post here has stated clearly, it’s everywhere. So in my opinion the key is to begin with ourselves first. Then we must begin to require/demand/expect accountability from those in our circles of influence. To respond to Janet’s comment, I think people can start over if they have “online transgressions” but they have to admit they messed up and be sincere about making the wrong right instead of looking for someone to blame. For those of us who didn’t commit the transgressions, we must learn from that failure and try to avoid it. Everyone is (should be) accountable to someone.
You’re right about sincerity and avoiding the blame game – social media professionals have made a whole business segment out of digital crisis management. It sounds so simple when you say it; I’ve always been quick to apologize when someone gets offended, so it surprises me when people screw up and let their own ego keep them from stopping what turns into a runaway train.
Everyone should be accountable to someone – I couldn’t have said it better myself, and learning from the failures of others is the name of the game. Sometimes I think people feel like the rules don’t apply to them.
Thanks for stopping by Wooten. Your comments offer a solution when all I have done is run down the problem. Bravo.