Social Media Promotes the Bystander Effect and Detaches Us From Any Impulse to Empathize


Thu, Mar 21st, 2013 20:00 by capnasty NEWS

Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post warns of the online bystander effect using the Steubenville rape as an example of "callousness with which other students took out their cellphones to record the attack and gossiped about it online. In fact, the case came to light via a barrage of morning-after text messages, social media posts and online photos and video."

Much has been said about how social media helped solve this crime. Through texts, videos, photographs and posts on Twitter and Facebook, police were able to piece together a timeline and document what happened. This history is posited as one of the marvels of social media.

What hasn’t been addressed is the factor of social media in the events themselves. If the bystander effect prevented people in 1964 from coming to the aid of Kitty Genovese, what might we expect from this and future generations, technologically equipped with devices that, by definition, place one in the role of dispassionate observer?

With a cellphone in every pocket, it has become second nature for most people to snap a picture or tap the video button at the slightest provocation — a baby’s giggle, a fallen tree or, just possibly, a drunk girl stripped naked by boys who don’t think twice. Over time, might the marginalizing effect of bystander detachment impede any impulse to empathize ?



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