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More people are citizen journalists instead of good Samaritans

People pull out cameras and snap pictures of scenes where help is often needed. Experts say this Bystander Effect is only worsening with social media.

December 10, 2012|by Joanna Small, KSPR News | Reporter and Photographer

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A photographer who snapped a picture of a man in New York City just seconds before he was killed by a subway train has sparked an ethical debate, both nationally and here in the ozarks.
 
Although the man with the camera in that case is a professional journalist, his photograph raises questions about those who are not.  He wasn't close enough to help the victim.  The problem is that response is not all that uncommon and experts say social media isn't helping either.
 
Almost everyone inside Coffee Ethic in downtown Springfield has a story to tell about a time that they wish they'd acted a bit differently.

"There was a man harassing a woman verbally and it was to the point where she was obviously uncomfortable," one man said.

"One of the first times I was down here on the square, I saw a guy getting stomped by this door," said another.

"They just start beating each other with these pipes and knocking each other into the fences and everybody has their phones out videotaping," one woman said.

Those people, like most people, say they weren't close enough to help, too afraid to help, or left too quickly to help.  And all are probably true, but experts say the majority of people feel that way.
 
ABC proves it every Friday night on the program "What Would You Do?", a television program that stages scenes like thefts and outbursts to see how the average Joe reacts.

This is nothing new, although the internet has certainly changed things.  Sociologists call it the Bystander Effect.  It's a phenomenon where essentially you are less likely to intervene when someone is in distress if there are plenty of other people around who could so as well.

"The first studies are over 100 years old.  Some German sociologists in the 1870s and 1880s started writing about how does this switch from small rural communities to big cities affect people and their interactions, and they began to see that people in big cities don't feel as connected to others on a personal level," said Tim Knapp, a sociologist at Missouri State University.

Knapp says the Bystander Effect has new legs with social media.

"When I was young, there were three commercial television stations -- NBC, CBS, ABC," but now everyone can be a journalist and some times, at the expense of being a good Samaritan.

"There's a lot of people on the square watching, really apathetic towards it, doing nothing," a man inside Coffee Ethic said of fights he's seen.

To be clear the subway situation in New York is extreme, even for professional journalists.  Most of the time, we document an accident after the fact, which is what most citizen journalists do as well.  The professor says the more likely the person in need of help seems like he'll live, the less likely people are to help him.

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