Is Social Media Making us Lose our Conscience?

Scientific Studies into "The Bystander Effect" - Video Explains

//Is Social Media Making us Lose our Conscience?

Is Social Media Making us Lose our Conscience?

Two Ohio high school football players were convicted of rape after causing serious harm to a 16-year-old girl and her reputation. Photos and a video of her, over the six hour period she was violated, were posted online. The pictures were traded amongst her peers as they further shared hundreds of texts about what was happening. No one came to her defence, not even days later.

Kathleen Parker – recipient to a 2010 Pulitzer Prize – has written a provocative article about this entitled: The Rape of Decency on Social Media. She believes that what happened here relates to the Bystander Effect.


Kitty Genovese was stabbed repeatedly by Winston Moseley who then raped her and stabbed her again until she died. This took place in 1964. No one came to her rescue or called the police, despite the screams being heard by neighbours in adjacent apartments that went on for over 30 minutes.

Instead, windows were closed, curtains were drawn and doors were shut. The term “Bystander Effect” was coined following the study of how human nature in this case chose to ignore her pleas for help.

The Psychology of “It’s not my problem”

Further studies since Kitty’s death have confirmed that the more people there are who observe someone in trouble, the less there is a chance of them offering help.

Now bringing it to this more recent tragedy, Kathleen Parker asks a question concerning the easy use of cell phones to snap a picture or take a video and post it online without any sense of the consequences. She wonders if “over time, might the marginalizing effect of bystander detachment impede any impulse to empathy?

6 minute Video
 The Death of Kitty Genovese & the Bystander Effect

How are you affected?

Did you know that marriages often fall apart because of partners denying their own responsibility for the problems, pushing issues under the rug while their relationship is being harmed by inaction?

This is a form of the Bystander Effect, “it’s not my problem”.

We all know that we should take responsibility for ourselves. We know we should intervene when something is not right. In our relationships. In our families. In our workplaces. In our schools. In our societies. However, back in the primitive days, our brains may actually have been wired to become passive.

3 minute Video: The Bystander Effect explained

Passive brain wiring? Our minds have not yet caught up

The Bystander Effect began as a means of survival when the rule of law did not exist in our societies; when men pillaged villages, slaughtered the inhabitants and took women as their prisoners. For those wanting to survive, internal decisions were made to ignore harm being done to another, so that they in turn could hide away, be safe and not also get hurt.

We are in a different world, but our minds have not yet caught up. We submit to bullies, because it’s easier than challenging them about their behaviours. Because of the Bystander Effect, abusers get away with far too much in our society. They know that most people will turn a blind eye. This happens everyday in families and at the workplace, as well as at the school where your children attend.

How often have I seen in my counselling office, a client struggling with the abuse that happened to them and also struggling with knowing that no one tried to protect them.

It is vital that each of us takes a look at how The Bystander Effect affects us, so that society can step up to a higher standard of conduct.

Written by Michael Haggstrom, Doctor in Counselling

Source: The Rape of Decency on Social Media. Kathleen Parker. Published March 21, 2013, Calgary Herald

Ohio Teenagers Guilty of Rape that Social Media Brought to Light. Richard A. Oppel Jr. Published March 17, 2013, The New York Times.

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