Let’s Stop the Bystander Effect – Now

While the Bystander Effect has been around a lot longer than the internet and social media, it has taken on a new, different form at least in part owing to the web. According to Psychology Glossary AlleyDog:

The Bystander Effect is a social phenomenon in which a person (or persons) are less likely to offer help to another person (or persons) when there are more people around who can also provide assistance. Many people believe that, when there is an emergency and lots of people are present, the people in need are more likely to get assistance.

bystander-helpIn the age of social media, the Bystander Effect has evolved into something that parents need to be aware of, and take steps to curb it and keep it from spreading. More and more frequently, when young bystanders witness a victim in distress, notably in cases of beatings or sexual assault, they are more interested in taking pictures and video and posting them to social media than they are in helping the victim.

Surely the notoriety gained by having a scoop on social media is not worth forgoing helping someone in distress, but it is happening.

In a very real story this week from British Columbia, Canada, police are warning teens against posting pictures from a sexual assault at a graduation party to social media. From CTV news:

Mounties are urging potential witnesses to turn their pictures over to police as evidence of an alleged criminal act. Those who instead choose to post or share the images could face child pornography charges, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The fact that no one helped the victim, and that the police needed to issue such a warning after the fact, reveal a pretty sad state of affairs on two fronts. First, let’s get back to teaching kids that the appropriate first response to a victim in distress is to help, or call for help. Second, it’s both a violation of privacy and decency to post photos of a helpless victim online. Both of these should be obvious. It’s time for a change.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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