I often post stories about the dark side of social media.  Along with hacking and hoaxes, it just happens to be one of the beats I cover.

Social media, like TV and movies, is now a part of the culture today and has an indirect influence on many of the policies we debate as a society. And as we often say, politics is downstream from culture (thank you, Andrew Breitbart).

I have to admit, it’s a beat that can become a real drag sometimes, when so much of what we see seems so negative.  As I’ve written before though, it’s not the medium of social media that causes bad behavior, it’s the people.  Social media is merely the vehicle through which bad behavior is highlighted and its viral nature can often accelerate the pace of things that might not normally spread as quickly without it.

So when I see something positive that is rooted in social media, it’s a refreshing change of pace that I think deserves highlighting.  For a number of reasons.

I posted this story on my own Facebook page the other day, and in thinking about it some more, it struck me as a good example of how culture and policy can sometimes collide.

From ABC News:

When Karen Suffern, a single mom from Rocky Mount, N.C., asked her 8-year-old twins to write a letter to Santa with their Christmas wishes over the weekend, she expected to see toys, books and clothes on the list.

Instead, Suffern was shocked to see a heartfelt request from her son, Ryan, that Santa Claus step in and put an end to the bullying suffered by his twin sister, Amber.

“Dear Santa … I wanted a [remote control] car and helicopter, but I don’t want that any mor. Kid at school are still picking on Amber and its not fair because she doesnt do anything to them … ,” Ryan wrote. “I prayed that they will stop but god is bisy and needs your help.

“Is it against the rules to give gift early?” he wrote.

Suffern was so touched by the letter, she shared it on her own Facebook page, and it was subsequently shared far and wide from there.  The story went viral after media picked up on it, and now the girl’s favorite band has given her a special serenade on national television.

The story is more than just a feel-good story, though.  It can be an example for influencing positive change in our culture at a time when so many want to legislate such change instead.

Bullying, including cyberbullying, is an all too frequent topic in the news these days. The stories of victims who eventually took their own lives over bullying/cyberbullying – like Rebecca Sedwick, Rehtaeh Parsons, and Hannah Smith – are just a few that have made recent headlines.

It’s not exactly a new problem; generations of kids (and adults, too) have struggled with bullying.  Something about the social media aspect seems to have drawn far more attention to the issue in recent years, I suppose because it’s easier to bully from behind a screen.  And it’s erupted into ongoing discussions about various forms of legislation, from proposals to do away with anonymous commenting, to expanding or creating laws to ban cyberbullying, to limiting certain types of speech.

But like any proposed rules or legislation, there are usually unintended consequences.  And in many cases, rules and laws may already exist in some places to address bullying without the need for new ones.  In short, it’s all a slippery slope when we get into trying to legislate speech.

And this is why I point out at the start of this post that certain elements of social media are part of the culture now, and this has an influence on policy.

Stories like that of Karen Suffern and her children Ryan and Amber are great examples of how we can positively impact culture.  Because, in my view at least, it’s the culture that we need to change if we want a better environment for our kids, not so much the laws.  The more we all discuss it and face the challenges head-on through positive examples, the more we can impact the culture.

Already, the Sufferns’ story has brought about some positive change.  “Other people said they’re going to help look out for Amber too, and make sure they don’t mess with her,” said Ryan and Amber’s mom.

Positive examples can go a long way to change the culture.