Source: New York Times
The Bystander Effect: What is it?
Imagine you’re witnessing something newsworthy like a fight or a burning building. What would be your first instinct? To help, to call the authorities, or to pull out your camera phone to record the event? For many, the answer is to record it on their phone, but why? According to some social psychologists this is a new incarnation of what psychologists call: The bystander effect.
The phenomenon was originally studied after the murder of a New York City woman, Kitty Genovese. 30 people witnessed the violent murder, but no one reported it or attempted to help the woman. Psychologists attribute this to the idea that people will not help out if others are present, the bystander effect. In other words, everyone assumes that someone else will, or already has, helped out.
Source: ABC Action News
Visit one of several hundred Facebook pages like “World Star” or “The Fight Department” and you will find several disturbing videos of fights and destruction. This often poses the ethical and moral question of: Should you be doing something? Is filming instead of offering assistance against the law? Absolutely not; on the other hand, this could pose a serious ethical question, some as simple as The Golden Rule.
Nearly every day it seems like we see some new cell phone video of a fight, accident or other disturbance filmed by onlookers. In today’s culture, the bystander effect has taken a new form in the behavior of filming, or otherwise documenting an event instead of stepping in. HLN Now reports on a vicious fight of two Ohio teenagers which was recorded and posted on the Internet.
Under the First Amendment, citizens are given the right to freedom of speech and press. In other words: People are allowed to speak and publish freely whatever they please, unless it falls under the categories of obscenity or speech that directly encourages violence. In this case, initiating the fight is against the law, but documenting a fight and putting it on social media, is not. Especially if the fight is in a public area, it is not considered to be illegal. Although this is a seriously morally conflicting situation. If the fight in question is brought to the authorities, legally the video can be used as evidence.
Some believe believe that documenting an event, like the Stanley Cup riots, and sending it to the authorities is helping out. This may be a step toward being less passive, but still doesn’t prevent the event from happening. On the other hand, some are recording the event to post to social media in hopes of it going viral.
Source: CBC News
The online community allows like-minded people to come together and have synchronized communication. This encompasses any sort of communication, including viral videos of fights, accidents, disasters, riots etc. Cell phones have undoubtedly changed society in regard to social media, convenience and videography. Legally one is not slighted for recording most things on their phones, but where does the law draw the line?
Cell Phones and Music
In the year preceding his untimely death, Prince forbade audience members from videotaping his live performances. Since then, artists such as Childish Gambino, Guns ‘N Roses, Alicia Keys and The Lumineers each have required audience members to put their mobile devices in locked pouches during their concerts. Not only are artists cracking down on live concert recordings, the government is as well.
Source: CBC News
Federal law, 17 U.S.C. § 1101 imposes civil penalties for the unauthorized recording of live performances or the transmission or distribution of such. This is true even if the bootlegging is not done for commercial gain. The statute provides that anyone who takes part in these illegal acts is potentially liable for money damages. A court may also impound applicable recordings.
Similarly, 18 U.S.C. Section 2319(a), which makes bootlegging a criminal offense if the perpetrator — without the consent of the applicable artist — knowingly records a live musical performance or distributes such a recording, and does so for commercial gain.
One of the most famous court cases invoking the civil anti-bootlegging statute involved the band Kiss, who sued a concert promoter for commercially distributing a video taken of the band at a stadium concert. The band had consented to be filmed for the purpose of projecting the images at the concert; the promoter later released the video on DVD without Kiss’ consent.
While this case involved a commercial bootlegging motive, under the civil statute, those who record or distribute concert footage without the consent of the performer are breaking the law, even if the recorded materials are not distributed commercially. In this particular case, since the bootleg videos were distributed commercially, the defendants could potentially also have been held liable under the criminal anti-bootlegging statute.
In the last year, several artists have filed takedown requests with YouTube on the basis that, when users put up footage of live performances without the performer’s’ consent. Those recordings are being distributed in violation of the civil anti-bootlegging statute.
There is little recent case law discussing the application of federal anti-bootlegging statutes, but it is possible that this may change in the future, given current trends among prominent artists to protect against videotaping live performances at concerts. Artists take certain measures to protect themselves, arguably, one could say the same in regard to using your cellphone to record public police activity.
Cell phones and Community Policing
As discussed in this paper, cell phones can be used for just about everything – especially for recording and photography purposes. They even come into play when regarding police activity, which has become a pattern in social media. There are blogs and websites solely devoted to these amateur recordings, and in some places, the police are trying to put a stop to it.
On one hand, this could be an effective form of community policing, but what are the implications of this? Is this interfering with police and their jobs? Should you both legally and ethically be recording a public official doing their job?
The Atlantic Freelance photographer Angel Zayas is detained by police officers for taking photos in the New York City subway on November 27, 2012. Zayas told Reuters he was arrested when he continued to photograph officers after they ordered him to stop. Source: The Atlantic
In an interview with The Atlantic, Chairman of D.C.’s metropolitan police union and 21-year veteran on the force, Delroy Burton said, “as a basic principle, we can’t tell you to stop recording.” Burton continued, “if you’re standing across the street videotaping, and I’m in a public place, carrying out my public functions, [then] I’m subject to recording, and there’s nothing legally the police officer can do to stop you from recording.”
“What you don’t have a right to do is interfere. Record from a distance, stay out of the scene, and the officer doesn’t have the right to come over and take your camera, confiscate it,” Burton stated.
Broadly speaking, it is always legal to record the police in public places or when they are on-duty, so long as the witness does not interfere with police proceedings. The video below provides a brief overview of what you should ever do if confronted with a questionable encounter with police who try to confiscate your recording device:
Legally, what is discussed in the provided video is what you should do if ever in that type of situation. But what about the moral or ethical side of the situation? Should you have been even recording the police in the first place? Mary Angela Bock, an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism who researches photojournalism practice and ethics commented,
“All citizens should be in the habit of documenting the public work of police in public places,” she continued, “It shouldn’t be only in times of crisis, and not just people in groups that are marginalized in society. Everyone needs to make it a respectful habit.”
In essence morally, community policing should look like journalism. Yes, the average person is no journalist, but they should know the implications of recording something – especially when it can go viral and alter many lives.
Journalists must be held accountable, such as the public. Above all else, journalists have a strict ethical code to adhere to. Some ethical guidelines even the public should be mindful of when community policing are:
- Seek the Truth and Report it
- Minimize Harm
These ethical guidelines are provided by the Society of Professional Journalists. Although all ethical guidelines are important, these two are especially important to non-journalists when found in journalistic situations.
Seek the truth and report it. When non-journalists decide to community police they should remember this ethical suggestion. They are choosing to submerge themselves in situations that they feel are “unfit” or that they support, and they choose to post their reporting on social media. Regardless it if it just an average person doing it, they are still legally able to share whatever they choose. Seeking the truth and posting it is important. It is okay to spread the word of whatever subject you feel, just make sure it is true.
Minimize harm. Balancing the public’s need for information while being mindful of the situation you are in is essential. An average person should always be aware not to be too intrusive in any situation, especially if they are looking to spread a meaningful message to the public.
In conclusion, cell phones have drastically altered the way those using social media communicate. It has redefined the meaning of the bystander effect, encompassing those who use recording devices to document an event vs. stepping in and taking whatever action should be taken.
Cell phones shook the music industry, creating easy ways for music-goers to record and sell music illegally – even creating a bootleg lawsuit with the infamous band, Kiss. It has even changed the way an average person polices in their community. All of these instances raise ethical, moral and legal issues that can get complicated.
Arguably, ethically and morally, those with cell phones should act as journalists in a way, remembering that what they post to the Internet may not be forgotten, and can alter someone’s life, whether they meant to or not. They should also arguably act with compassion, remembering that recording a situation should be done if the situation calls for it, meaning: Not a dire situation requiring immediate outside assistance.