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Bystander Effect: an Impact of Social Media and Education

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Media heavily affects the bystander effect and we can analyze this by using Max Weber’s theory of symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism is the human interaction at a micro-level. Human individual would be at the centre of understanding society since social values are formed by individual interpretation.

People assign different meanings to different things and people, and act accordingly. People are heavily involved with social media, their new technology that gives them the ability to share and spread news. Sure it can make us feel like social activists and may seem like the bystander effect would probably reduce. (Keshia Badalge, 2017)However it is not the case. If we see a situation going on, what we would quickly do is take out our cameras and start recording. We may think we’re helping, but all were doing is bystanding.

So due to this technology and the development of social media and the urge we have to post things up, it actually is dangerous and is worsening the bystander effect. We can explain this by symbolic interactionism as we interact with others. We do what others do and look at others to figure out what we should do and how to react.

Due to social media, the first thing we would do in a negative public situation is taking out our cameras to start recording. We now naturally symbolize a shocking situation with our camera phones. This is also what majority of the people standing by would do, so we would also want to do the same. Therefore, social media and technology seems to increase the bystander effect as we don’t even want to experience a real moment anymore without our phones taken out to record everything. So, during an even where there are bystanders in a public situation, we are unaware of how to help out, unable to decide whether we should help out due to the number of people occupied with cell phones recording, etc.

Yes, social environments impact the bystander effect heavily because from a psychological perspective we know that if there are more people in a certain area, the responsibility of a bystander is distributed evenly, eventually no one feels responsible enough to stand up to whatever is going on. Marx Weber had stated that people make out numbers and rationalize (rationalization) and assign different meanings to what they see and observe, which is called symbolic interactionism. We symbolize what we observe and not get involved in situations because from our micro-level perspective, we assume that if we were to get involved, we’ll worsen situations or get ourselves in trouble as well.

So, if we see a whole group of people in public bystanding, we would automatically do the same. We fear getting in unnecessary trouble or problems in our lives so that is why the bystander effect is so common in society. People rationalize because rationalization is when social actions are motivated by efficiency or benefit, not wisdom or emotion. If for example, a camera was seen by bystanders there is most likely that someone would be willing to help out in a situation in public in front of many other bystanders because they know that if they help out and gets recorded on camera, they have a chance of being rewarded or gaining benefits. If people don’t see how helping out during a situation can somehow help them out, they wouldn’t try to risk their safety and help whoever is being challenged in a public situation since no one else is.

We can also assume due to this that there is a difference between rural areas and urban areas when it comes to the bystander effect because we learned that the more people are the less likely it is for people to help out, and vice versa. Therefore, social environments are a key part in how people are going to act when a public situation occurs. It depends on many factors, such as urbanization, population, and relationships, etc.

In school, students are also taught meanings to different situations, things, etc. and how they should behave according to what they are taught. For example, respect parents, and behave with respect around higher authority people. This is symbolic interactionism as they are taught different meanings to different things. They are also taught at a young age not to get involved in situations that doesn’t belong to you, mind your own business, be independent, etc. this is programmed in our brain from a young age to not get involved in situations that has nothing to do with you, or else you will be faced with consequences. So educational systems have a flaw when it comes to teaching children how to not be bystanders because now, people symbolize getting involved in a situation with getting ourselves in trouble since that was what we were taught from such a young age.

We can also talk about structural functionalism which is when a society is stable when social institutions meet the needs of citizens. However Emile Durkheim did receive criticism because structural functionalism didn’t focus on the negative issues that come with trying to structurize everything. This is also an example of the bystander effect as because it fits into the category of the negative outcomes of society due to structural functionalism.

Rational decision theory also comes to define how schools teach children and how they behave, because if most children are doing what is told, others will follow through to try to fit in with society as well. This theory defines when people make rational decisions whether or not to participate in collective behaviour. They have specific number of people who must be engaged in a situation before people will join (threshold).

There is also a sense of not being held responsible because everyone else is taking part in the activity as well. This is exactly how the bystander effect is created in society. Therefore, if most children are involved in a situation, others are likely to join, but if no one is participating, no one will want to feel responsible for getting involved.

The convergence theory also defines the bystander effect as it is when a large group of likeminded people such as bystanders come together. They behave according to their own beliefs but do so with the protection of others behaving in the same manner. So, if most are just standing by and not doing anything about a critical situation, the rest of the people will also do the same. This is how the bystander effect led to the holocaust.

Educational systems teach not only one student, but several students in groups. And if most students are taught to be bystanders, the others will follow through and be bystanders themselves so they won’t be treated like outcasts.

Remember: This is just a sample from a fellow student.

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Bystander Effect: an Impact of Social Media and Education. (2018, December 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from
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