Social Media and the Bystander Effect 

As we discussed bystander effect this week, one thing that wasn’t mentioned is the effect of social media and the bystander effect. Today, it should be easier than ever to call 911 in an emergency situation as practically everyone has a cellphone. However, instead of pulling out a cellphone to call 911, bystanders use it to record the situation on the sideline without helping. Nir and Dollinger (2019) report that during a wild after-school brawl erupted outside a Long Island strip mall, people didn’t step in to help, worse, they stood there and record the fight and a teen’s, who was stabbed in the chest, suffering. Levine (2018) states that when she stopped to help a woman who was bleeding on her head and neck at a subway platform in New York City, people took their phone out, not to call 911, but to record the scene. These are just two examples but there are many more situations just like these in the news. It seems that the bystander effect has reached its worst time yet. 

Latane and Nida (1981) explain that diffusion of responsibility which refers to the knowledge that others are present and available to help, allows the shifting of responsibility for helping the victims. However, the bystander effect in the age of social media not only diffuses responsibility , but allows bystanders to take it to the next level by actively watching victims suffer, so they can record the situation to post on their social media later. Surprisingly, there’s not many researches out there yet regarding social media and the bystander effect. However, Dr. Dara Greenwood, a psychology professor with Vassar College, who was cited in Pittaro’s (2019) article, explains that the attention that bystanders, especially young adults, received from capturing and posting such video which then leads to the feeling of ‘optimal distinctiveness,’ is the motivation. If Kitty Genovese’s murder happened today, it would be all over the social media. While social media is not all bad as it has helped solve crimes in the past, researchers and policymakers should pay close attention to the effect of social media and the bystander effects as it is getting worse. Today, more so than ever, bystanders lack empathy and are largely desensitized to violence and crime scenes (Pittaro, 2019). Furthermore, teachers and parents need to teach their students and kids what it means to be an active bystander. More importantly, teach them that it’s not ok to watch and record someone’s sufferings, especially for “likes” on social media!






Latané, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89(2), 308-324. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.89.2.308

Levine, A. S. (2018, July 30). New York Today: The City’s Bystander Effect. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from

Nir, S. M., & Dollinger, A. (2019, September 17). Oceanside Stabbing: After a Brawl, Teenagers Gawked as a Boy Lay Dying. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from

Pittaro, M. (2019, September 19). Social Media and The Bystander Effect. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from


  1. Hello,

    I enjoyed reading your post. I think the interaction between social media and the bystander effect is interesting and allows for a new opportunity to demonstrate the prevalence of the effect. The examples you provided are sad, yet an important reminder that people, especially in the age of social media, are often not concerned with taking the responsibility to help in an emergency situation, like those you described.

    How do you suggest education about the bystander effect be delivered in the age of social media? It has been shown that medical knowledge decreases the bystander effect, but do you think this will still be the case in the age of social media (Beaman, Barnes, Klentz, & McQuirk, 1978)? In other words, do you think to have the knowledge of how to help in a situation with override one’s desire to post a video of such situation on social media? I think these are important questions to examine when assessing how the bystander effect continues to evolve–though still persist–through time.



    Beaman, A.L., Barnes, P.J., Klentz, B., & McQuirk, B. (1978). Increasing helping rates

  2. Hello,
    You point out a whole new added dimension of the bystander effect—how modern technology also may play a role in the social phenomenon of not helping others in emergency situations, based on several factors. You rightly point out that new research is needed to incorporate this new dimension. People who videotape instead of helping may be doing so for their own benefit—to get more likes on social media?! In this way, help is not offered when it is needed not because the situation may be ambiguous or that one may think that others may help, but because an individual may actually want some sort of personal gain from the experience for themselves. Ironically, the act of videotaping actually provides information to others that the situation is clearly not ambiguous—normally people videotape events that are worthy of being taped for some reason. In this way, videotaping serves an informational cues to others, functioning as a type of social influence, that often prompt others to be more likely to take action, according to Latane and Nida (1981).

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