Skip to content Skip to footer

What is the bystander effect? How inaction is f*cking society up

With videos being crucial for courtrooms, media and our own safety, I find that there’s an overabundance of them. Obviously, this isn’t always a bad thing.

Look at cases like George Floyd, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling… It’s not surprising. We need videos. Even in others, videos have been crucial to clearing names and finding connected events and problems.

Yet, videos can’t ever be reactive. Videos can’t jump in and save the day during a mugging or a sexual assault or any other injustice.

When you see people with videos ever-increasing, it’s important to remember there are other ways to intervene in the situation before it’s too late. Most importantly, avoid being a bystander with a camera.

The Market for Gore and Fights

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Videos aren’t just used for self-defense or help. With stuff like LiveLeak and WorldStarHipHop, it’s impossible to pretend that there isn’t a thriving market for videos just like these. WorldStar thrives off of fight vids. LiveLeak tries not to disallow anything and definitely has some heavy stuff up there.

LiveLeak argues that they are somewhat different; they try to hold an approach in which they hold no bias towards any videos, instead of creating an open forum for people to post whatever they want. Which is fair but still helps feed this drive to dehumanize victims and create a market of entertainment from suffering.

Still though, videotaping has a place in intervention. Videos have helped solidify innocence in some cases and helped to identify people who committed crimes. Intervention has saved countless people from worse fates. One recent example would be Iyanna Dior, a Black trans woman who was assaulted by a group of men in June.

Luckily, Dior was able to escape out of the gas station, into the convenience store, thanks to her quick wit and bystanders that stood in between her and the attackers. Still though, as great as this is, it’s hard not to think about all the other cases where things didn’t go this way.

The Bystander Effect

Most likely, you’ve heard about the bystander effect before. It’s a phenomenon that happens when a group of people witness something happen.

As it goes, no one does anything, because every other individual thinks that another person will get help or intervene. The more people there are, the less likely one person is to step up and intervene.

A fake origin story…Sort of.

In and of itself, the Bystander effect isn’t even entirely what you may think of it. There’s the infamous tragic tale: in 1964, New York City, Kitty Genovese was murdered in front of around 38 witnesses and no one did anything about it.

Unfortunately, the gruesome parts are still true; Genovese was still murdered. Yet, there weren’t thirty-eight witnesses there and the witnesses that did hear the crime did not hear the whole thing. Indeed, research appears to show that the bystander effect may not be entirely true either.

However, this could be argued due to the amount of work that has gone into prevention programs and opening a dialogue that has created this shift in consciousness.

Regardless of what you believe with the bystander effect, the documentation (or creation of it, depending on where you sway) has led to more focus on intervention programs in colleges, like Green Dot UCF or Step UP! By University of Arizona. Even typical programs to prepare one to work have zeroed in on this, all in the attempt to shut down the Bystander Effect.

And it’s not in vain.  Nearly one in five women have been raped in their lives, and 1 in 71 men. One in two transgender people are assaulted or sexually abused in their times. Most of my own friends try to avoid walking anywhere alone at night. So regardless if the origin is a fluke or not, it might not even matter. Just remember not to keep still.