This title, of course, is a spin on the everlasting Philosophy 101 questions of the tree: if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a noise? Similarly, one can ask, if a murder is live streamed and nobody watches it, will it become a common occurrence, or have the impact that it seeks to have? A lot has been said about the recent murder that occurred via a live stream on Facebook. What I have heard, from pundits and callers to radio shows, is that the blame seems to lie with the killer and/or Facebook, but I think the society that we live in, ultimately, is to blame.
How could Facebook have done something to prevent this crime? Well, murder online may be new, but not unthinkable, the 2008 movie, Untraceable had a premise of viewership being the culprit of the murder taking place online. Sure, now that this happened, Facebook could establish changes, whether that’s a delay in displaying videos (like on award shows after Janet Jackson’s boob incident), or software, or some other “safeguard” against this type of thing. However, if Facebook makes it impossible to live stream a murder, what’s the guarantee, that Instagram, or Snapchat or any broadcasting platform will also be as prohibitive?
If we don’t watch it (which btw I did not watch it, I mainly listen to the radio for news and read newspapers) then it will not be as appealing to broadcast. My understanding is that even newscasts have shared almost every part of the video with the exception of the murder itself. Now, this means, not just the viewers, sitting on Facebook and those sharing it are to blame, but also news shows because they are also getting eyeballs and thereby profiting from this story.
What most astounded me is that not many people reported the crime to authorities (or flagged it) compared to the number of people that viewed it. This is not an isolated instance, the sexual assault that was live streamed in Chicago recently had 40 live views and also no reports to the police. Hmmm. Hello!!
This isn’t a new problem, it’s the old ‘bystander problem’ but now online. The bystander problem was first a subject of interest when in 1964 in NYC there was a half hour chase and then a stabbing of a young woman, Kitty Genovese. There were 38 bystanders who watched the assailant chase the girl and stab her on three occasions, and not one person reported it. Social Studies were conducted by Bibb Latane of Columbia University and John Darley of NYU, and ultimately they found that when people are in a group, responsibility is diffused – meaning you assume someone else will take the needed action to help.
I believe that if as individuals (since that’s how we make up society) we demanded more, do the right thing more (reported incidents) and put up with less crap (via our time, and money), things would change.