When the 10-minute video of middle-school students cruelly taunting an elderly school bus monitor went viral, people responded with outpourings of anger and kindness. But what is the Internet’s role in this incident?

Basically, the Facebook video entitled “Making The Bus Monitor Cry” (eventually posted on YouTube as well) took an all-too-common incident and made it an exceedingly public issue. The four boys and their families have received threatening messages, and a fundraising effort for victim Karen Klein neared $500,000.

A Perfect Storm of Bullying

The incident itself, though, has nothing to do with the Net. Doctor of psychology John Grohol, chief executive and founder of PsychCentral, says a number of factors were likely behind the opportunistic bullying.

First, Klein was alone and vulnerable. And many children have no respect for seniors, Grohol says. “Whether it’s because they were never taught it, or believe the older people have nothing of interest to offer them or relevance to their lives, it’s not clear.”

Second, kids are increasingly quick to exploit an adult with no authority over them, Grohol says. “Just plopping an adult into a moving room of 60 kids isn’t going to have the same effect it might have had 30 or 40 years ago.”

Parental control is also an issue, as parents increasingly side with their children rather than with schools in disputes. As of this writing, none of the boys had been taken by their parents to Klein to apologize in person.

Why Did the Video Get Posted Online?

But why would these kids post a video of the incident online? A mob mentality can lead bullies to believe that they can’t be fingered individually, Grohol explains - no matter how many people know of their actions.

The incident took place in Greece, N.Y., and the town’s Central School District is considering the proper punishment for the boys. Many people on the Internet believe it should be harsh. But no matter the repercussions here, incidents like this - and their dissemination on the Net - are merely symptoms of larger changes in technology and society.

Those four kids may learn their lesson, and they aren’t likely to put their misbehavior online again anytime soon. But you can bet plenty of other kids won’t get the message.