Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Spectator Society

The Disgusting Side Effect of the Social Media/Viral Video Age

Have you heard the story of Kitty Genovese? She was a woman who was brutally stabbed to death nearby her New York apartment by a lunatic assailant. She was attacked by the man on three separate occasions during a time span of 35 minutes, all the while crying and screaming for help. Police reports declared that over 38 people heard or saw the attack—which occurred out in public—and no one intervened or even bothered to call police until AFTER the third attack when Kitty was already dead and the man fled the scene.

Do you know when this incident occurred? 1964. But judging from the subject matter, you would think it just happened the other day. In fact, if it did happen today, I can’t promise you that someone would’ve intervened and helped the poor woman out but I can wholeheartedly assure you without a doubt in my mind there would be live tweets, Facebook statuses and perhaps even footage of the murder captured on video and put up on YouTube or shock sites like World Star Hip Hop in order to go viral.

Witnesses would be quick to comment on the incident on Facebook and Twitter or have first-hand pics and videos for the world to see, yet refuse to do anything in the heat of the moment. No one would lift a finger unless it would be to grab their smartphones and let their friends know what they just saw, overlooking the fact that they could have stepped in and helped.

The Kitty Genovese murder shocked the entire Nation during a time when there was no social media and when the only things phones could do is call people. The incident led to numerous social psychological studies on the public indifference phenomenon where people stand around and do nothing during life-threatening injustices or emergency situations. Ironically this all-too-common reaction was coined as “Genovese Syndrome” but is more generically known as the bystander effect.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of videos I have seen where the bystander effect is in action, which is made even worse when the bystander is just capturing the incident a few feet away when he or she could very easily step in. Videos of children being bullied, fights breaking out in public, vandalism, practical jokes, suicidal people jumping off buildings and a slew of other tragic events that people have become desensitized to, flood the internet and are viewed by millions. The television show “What Would You Do” pretty much documents and bases their entire show around the bystander effect in people with all of their simulated situations.

We are very quickly becoming a society of passive spectators. Rather than help our fellow man in distress, we take pictures and video of injustices. All of these tragic occurrences are completely preventable if the idiot with the cameraphone would put it in their pocket and do something.

What’s most disheartening are when those wannabe filmmakers are actually instigating or escalating a situation and yelling stuff like “This is going on Instagram!” or “WORLD STAR!”Heck, it’s even getting to a point where if a Good Samaritan does step in to help, they are ridiculed about it!

I saw a news story where a young teenaged girl broke up a fight—which had gone viral on the internet—between two students at a middle school. She was interviewed regarding her courageous efforts and she said that she was being teased at school by classmates and such for breaking up the fight! What were the abuses being hurled at her? They were sarcastically calling her a “hero” every time she passed by her locker or at the cafeteria.

Being teased and ridiculed for breaking up a fight? “Hero” is now some sort of a label to bring shame upon the girl because she refused to satiate the appetites of those wanting to see public violence? That is how degraded society has become.

According to some of the studies done on the bystander effect, two main reasons were cited as to why people don’t get involved in critical situations which require outside intervention:

· Pluralistic ignorance
Collective inaction by a large group encourages individuals within the group to accept that nothing is seriously amiss ("nobody else thinks it's serious"), even when his gut tells him otherwise.
· Diffusion of responsibility People have a tendency to avoid taking responsibility in critical situations, instead relying on another person to step up ("someone else is in charge" or "someone else is better able to deal with this"). The assumption that someone will do so becomes more pronounced in larger groups.

As Muslims, this is something that should hit us harder than any other type of people because it is directly against our Islamic principles. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing be upon him) tackled the issue of the bystander effect and of sitting idly by during injustices and troubling situations.

Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the weakest form of faith.

Absolutely beautiful. Notice he didn’t say, “Whoever of you sees an evil must pull their iPhone out and film it then share it with your friends.” It’s engrained in the Muslim character to step up and do something and intervene in any injustices, no matter who is involved, Muslim or not Muslim.

The idle spectators who decide their first course of action is to film an evil can argue that they went with the third tier of hating the situation in their heart. As questionable as that may be for someone salivating for video views for something they captured, it’s still the weakest form of faith. Being perceived as weak is nothing to be proud of.

Now I am not saying that everyone should suck it up, put themselves in harm’s way and try to be Superman, jumping in front of bullets and overpowering robbers, rapists and thugs and I’m sure the Prophet didn’t mean that either, which is why he mentioned three options. The entire point is to not be passive. It is to recognize a wrong when you see it and not ignore it or pass it off as “not a big deal”.

With technology rapidly evolving the way it is and the popularity in viral videos which can easily be shared and seen by millions, it is detrimentally effecting society and making people turn into paparazzi. Pulling out your mobile device is becoming an instinct, second nature for when you see something that isn’t quite right. That is not how human beings should act. I wonder how this affects children who witness these sort of things? Are they being brought up to film or take pictures rather than step in or call for help? 

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of those who are wronged or in the shoes of those like Kitty Genovese. What would you think if you were being violated in some sort of way, in the presence of passersby who could easily step in if they wanted to and all they did was stand around, watch and videotape the crap that’s happening to you?

If not only Muslims but mankind as a whole took just what the Prophet(pbuh) said to heart, the world would infinitely become a better place. Helping out those in need and correcting an injustice is one of the most fulfilling experiences one can feel in life be it big or small and with it comes a great reward. So why pass up such opportunities when they are presented before your very eyes? In the end, we’re all trying to get to the same place (Paradise) and being passive will get you nowhere.

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