In Slate, Seth Stevenson takes a look at why people tend to band together on the Internet to donate massive amounts of money to individuals like Karen Klein, the bus monitor who was infamously bullied on video:
Reicher attributes the giving frenzy, in part, to concretization. “For an abstract idea to affect us,” he says, “it often helps if it’s turned into something concrete and embodied. To say lots of people are suffering is an abstract concept. To see this one woman suffering, and be able to help her, is more concrete.”
Reicher suggests that the “archetypal elements” involved here played a role as well. As we watch the video, we might flash back to moments when we were bullied on a school bus. Or feel guilt about having bullied others. The video also pits strongly defined, archetypal personas in opposition to each other—brash youth versus wise elder. (Max Sidorov thinks it’s this juxtaposition of foulmouthed little kids and a weeping older woman that really screws with people’s emotions.)
The Internet raised about $700,000 for Klein to give her “the vacation of a lifetime.” Media coverage and Reddit also played a huge role. The Internet also banded together to raise $60,000 for a woman who needed surgery after she was brutally raped and beaten, but didn’t have the same massive publicity that Klein did. Last week, I donated $20 to Harper High school after listening to the two-part episode on This American Life about the school’s struggle with gun violence—the conversation about that episode on the Internet helped persuade me to do that too.