Why don’t people intervene when they encounter violence streaming live online?

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The Modern Bystander Effect

Social media promised to connect us with our friends, and the world beyond. We have discovered that that includes the happy, the sad and now, the depraved.

Perhaps it was inevitable that videos of playful cats would give way to the darker side of human nature, as ever-present cameras captured the violence taking place in society. But a new level of shock was reached recently when Facebook Live was used to show a live rape and a live beating.

The crimes were horrific enough, but other questions surfaced: Why would someone film an assault instead of intervening? And why didn’t those watching online call the police?

A phenomenon social scientists call the bystander effect was first identified some 50 years ago, after Kitty Genovese was killed outside her apartment in New York City. That case sheds light on behavior in the digital age.

View full episodes at PBS.org/RetroReport.

What the Kitty Genovese Killing Can Teach Today’s Digital Bystanders by Clyde Haberman

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More on the Story

Producer Karen Sughrue discusses the bystander effect in today's digital world onThe Takeaway
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What the Kitty Genovese Killing Can Teach Today’s Digital BystandersThe New York Times
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