Yesterday, video surfaced of middle-school students from Greece, N.Y., cruelly taunting their 68-year-old bus monitor, Karen Klein. The kids certainly knew they were being cruel, but some of their abusive remarks were even more hurtful than they could have realized: One student told her that her child should kill herself—and in fact Klein’s son committed suicide some years ago.
The clips went viral, sparking outrage. Klein appeared on the Today show on Thursday morning to discuss what happened: “It made me feel really terrible, but I will get over it. I’ve gotten over everything else.”
What might help her get over the experience is all the support she’s received online. Some of that support has come in the form of money. A man moved by the story created a fund on Indiegogo in hopes of raising $5,000 to send Klein on a nice, well-deserved vacation. That goal was smashed: As of early Thursday afternoon, the kitty is approaching $225,000 and is climbing rapidly. (I gave $10 myself last night.) Instead of a vacation, Klein could end up getting the gift of an early retirement.
Credit for the rapid spread of both the video and the Indiegogo page should go to Reddit. The site has become something of a St. Peter of the Internet, directing individuals to Web heaven and hell. Transgress, and your phone number, address, and email may be posted. (Just last month, a writer for the video game company BioWare was harassed after gamer-antagonizing quotes from an interview she gave in 2006 were posted to Reddit. The thread was later removed for violating Reddiquette.)
But if Reddit smiles upon you, there are rewards. Here are some other people who have benefited from Reddit’s positive attention.
Anthony Omari: Earlier this year, thieves attempted to rob a Kenyan orphanage that was home to 35 children. Orphanage worker Anthony Omari fought to protect the kids—and ended up sliced in the face with a machete. A 21-year-old college student posted a photograph of Omari and his stitched-up wound on Reddit with the question, “Think we could raise the $2,000 needed for the remainder of the cement/barbed wire wall to keep both him and the children safe?” Reddit ended up collecting more than $80,000, which paid for new locks, two night guards, and construction, according to the Associated Press.
Jake Villanueva: Just two weeks ago, the 23-year-old Canadian with Stage IV kidney cancer posted an “ask me anything”—in which people who are famous, interesting, or noteworthy (sometimes only in their own minds) invite the Reddit community to submit questions. “I won’t see 24,” he said in the headline. In response, a Redditor decided they should to try to pay for him to take a trip around the world, and the cash came tumbling in. “Wow, so I wake up to find out you guys stared a fund for me? … This was never about money or anything. This is all from YOUR generosity, I didn’t ask for this but will accept it. Also: To anybody thinking this will ‘eventually be exposed as a scam’ … go fall in a fire,” he posted in very Reddit fashion. The grateful Villanueva’s final haul: more than $30,000.
Lucas Gonzalez: In late 2011, the family of Lucas Gonzalez, a 3-year-old with a rare disorder, posted a request for help on Reddit’s assistance channel. As explained in this slide show, they needed money to relocate from Florida to North Carolina for six months so Lucas could receive and recover from a bone marrow transplant. Within 12 hours, Reddit had raised $31,000. The total later reached $55,000. Just today, Lucas hit 100 days since his bone marrow transplant.
Doctors Without Borders: Members of the Reddit atheism community brought in more than $200,000 for the international medical charity in December 2011.
A young nature lover: 7-year-old Winter Slade wanted to raise money to help preserve nature, but her classmates told her the idea was “stupid.” So her parents took to Reddit and asked for help. They raised more than $1,500—half of which went to a program to teach kids about the environment and half of which went to protect the pine marten.
Kathleen Edwards: In 2010, this little girl who suffered from Huntington’s disease became famous after word spread that an adult neighbor—bitter about a children’s birthday party—was taunting her. Reddit helped raise money for her to go on a toy shopping spree. Kathleen died of Huntington’s in January at the age of 9.
Caine’s Arcade: Caine, a 9-year-old boy from East L.A. created a charming homemade arcade at his father’s garage—but nobody came. Then a filmmaker learned about it and recruited arcade customers via Reddit, Facebook, and other social media to surprise him. The resulting short film, “Caine’s Arcade,” helped raise more than $100,000 for the boy’s education.
Reddit isn’t the only place online that has collected buckets of money to reward the good guys. For instance, it took less than 24 hours for the Oatmeal to turn a legal tangle with FunnyJunk into more than $200,000 for the National Wildlife Foundation and the American Cancer Society.
But Reddit has become a focal point for these viral fundraising campaigns. Between Karen Klein’s change of fortune and its move to shut down the /jailbait section, Reddit may be becoming one of the Internet’s moral centers. Just don’t make Redditors angry.