Posted by & filed under Altruism Prosocial Behaviour, Moral Development, Social Influence, Social Psychology, Social Psychology.

Description: If you have taken an introductory psychology course that included a section on social psychology you have likely heard about the Kitty Genovese case. It occurred in 1964 when Ms. Genovese was stabbed to death by an attacker in the Queens borough of New York in the very early morning hours. Accounts of the crime and its circumstances varied but the version most often discussed in social psychology chapters and textbooks suggested that quite a few people (some reports said up to 40) heard the attack and yet did nothing to intervene or even to provide indirect assistance by calling the police. While there has been debate about how many people actually heard the attack, the case inspired an area of social psychological research looking at bystander intervention or, more specifically, the bystander effect in which people who witness or are aware of a crime or of someone in need of assistance may do little or nothing to provide or summon assistance. Think about what sorts of factors might contribute to this effect (leaving out the possibility that people are callous and simply do not care). With those thoughts in mind, consider the news stories in the links below. One involved the alleged rape of a 15 year old girl that was broadcast live on Facebook Live and apparently viewed by 40 people with no calls made to police or other flags raised (surreal coincidence in the “witness numbers” there!). The other involved the forcible detention, verbal and physical abuse of a youth with mental health issues by 4 individuals also broadcast live on Facebook Live. YouTube posts of past events involving violence, bullying or worse are one thing (and not a good thing!) but those events occurred in the past. For events streamed live to Facebook Live any people watching are witnesses to a real-time live event and their in-actions are comparable to the lack of action in witnesses to the Genovese case.  Think about whether the situation in which people watch the events streamed on Facebook Live are the same or different than situations where the bystanders are actually “standing by” the events.

Source: Bystanders Who Witness Brutal Events on Facebook Live and other Social Media Platforms. Various media stories.

Date: March 24, 2017

Photo Credit:  Getty Images

Links:  Article Link —  or

Unlike other posts on this site, the news stories linked above do not really contain much in the way of “psychology”. No research is reported and no insights into or proposed solutions for the actions discussed are offered. It is up to you to do the psychology thinking and digging.  It is important to consider what Barbara Coloroso talks about ( in relation to any act of bullying in which there are three “people”; the bully, the bullied, and the not so innocent bystander. She argues that by simply standing by and not acting to sop the bullying bystanders are actually condoning the bullying behaviour. The same can be said about witnesses (on social media or otherwise) to acts of bullying and assault. We need to think hard about this and psychology needs to continue to try and not only understand this lack of behaviour or action but also to provide insight into what might be done to reduce or eliminate such lack of action.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the Bystander Effect? What sorts of behaviours or lack of behaviours does it involve?
  2. What psychological issues, thoughts, or beliefs might drive the bystander effect in the actual bystanders to crimes of harm and violence?
  3. How do “bystander effects” among witnesses at actual crime scenes vary from those viewing the crimes and brutalities streamed on social media platforms, or do they differ at all? What should be done about this?

References (Read Further):

Schacter, H. L., Greenberg, S., & Juvonen, J. (2016). Who’s to blame?: The effects of victim disclosure on bystander reactions to cyberbullying. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 115-121.’s_to_blame_The_effects_of_victim_disclosure_on_bystander_reactions_to_cyberbullying/links/568a8d9a08ae051f9afa5aea.pdf

Gross, C. M. (2016). The Dangerous Side of Social Media: Manipulating Bystander Aggression and Support to Cyberbullying Victims Through an Application of Side.

Olenik-Shemesh, D., Heiman, T., & Eden, S. (2017). Bystanders’ Behavior in Cyberbullying Episodes: Active and Passive Patterns in the Context of Personal–Socio-Emotional Factors. Journal of interpersonal violence, 32(1), 23-48.

Caffrey, T. A. (2016). Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America. By Kevin Cook.New York, NY: WW Norton, 2014. Pp.242.

Scott, K. V. (2016). LiveSafe: Increasing Bystander Intervention at Eastern Kentucky University.

Hampton, K. N. (2016). Why is Helping Behavior Declining in the United States but not in Canada. Ethnic Diversity, New Technologies and other Explanations.