Karen Klein is a 68-year-old woman who recently received a $703,168 check. She did not develop a cure for cancer, nor did she end poverty or win the lottery. Karen Klein received over $700,000 because people felt bad for her.
An article on slate.com by Seth Stevenson explained the situation. A video was posted online that showed several middle school boys on a bus bullying Karen Klein, the bus monitor. Feeling sorry for Klein, a man created a donation site on Indiegogo for those who felt compelled to give her money. A month later, after 23,000 donations, over $700,00 was raised and given to Klein.
The main issue with sites like Indiegogo and campaigns like Klein’s is the mob justice that they facilitate and promote. There are essentially two reasons that people donate to a cause: because it is a cause that they can empathize with, and/or because everyone else is donating to it.
At first, Klein’s cause was promoted by people who empathize with her situation, possibly because they themselves have been bullied or have been bullies. But eventually, as more and more donated, “the cause developed its own momentum and snowballed out of control,” wrote Stevenson.
This is a prime example of deindividuation, where in a group setting, a person loses a sense of his individuality and falls prey to the group mentality. Deindividuation occurs in instances of peer pressure, when people succumb to the demands of a group, but can occur online as well. Seeing other people donate money for Klein encourages others to do so, and people often get caught up in the whirlwind.
But since when does feeling sorry for someone mean that person deserves $700,000? Perhaps Klein could receive a small portion of the money, maybe $5,000. Klein donated $100,000 toward creating the Karen Klein foundation, aimed at stopping bullying. She kept the rest of the money for herself. Companies have been lavishing money on Klein as well– Southwest airlines offered to fly Klein and nine other people to Disneyland, and Disney offered to cover all of Klein’s expenses.
But is that really fair? Or ethical? Or just?
Aren’t there other, perhaps better, causes that deserve and need the money?
26,000 impoverished children die every day from preventable diseases and 3400 Americans are diagnosed with cancer daily. Just think how much can be accomplished if people care as much about poverty and cancer–epidemics that affect millions of people worldwide–as they do about one woman being bullied.