This paper addresses the phenomenon of bystanders who use their smartphones to film or take photographs at accident scenes, instead of offering their help to people in need or to assist medical units. This phenomenon has been extensively discussed in Swedish news media in recent years, since it has been described as a growing problem for rescue workers, like paramedics, police and fire fighters.
Some of the early literature in social psychology explained bystander inaction by indifference, but in the late 1960’s, the American researchers Darley and Latane showed that bystander inaction could be explained as an effect of the size of the bystander crowd. With an increase of the number of the bystanders, the chances of their involvement to help decreased.
The past decade has seen an growing scholarly interest in “media witnessing”, both in terms of witnessing from a distance through mass media, as discussed by Peters, and “citizen camera-witnessing”, a term popularised by the works of Allan and Andrén-Papadopoulos. This literature recognizes the complexity of concepts such as active/passive and proximity/distance when it comes to media witnessing in the digital era.
Drawn from previous research and theories, the aim of this paper is to discuss how bystander theory can be further developed to include the action of mobile media practices at scenes like accidents. From this perspective, the paper also draws attention to what could be a part of a mediated cultural trauma found in contemporary society and thereby connects to the theme of the conference.
The paper identifies four categories in the literature that are relevant for further research into the phenomenon and to be connected to the framework of bystander theories. These categories are: “disaster tourism”, “citizen (photo) journalism”, “media witnessing”, and “digital media ethics”.
The paper ends with a discussion about possible theoretical approaches to further empirical studies on contemporary bystander phenomena.
Prague: Czech-In , 2016. 176-176 p.
6th European Communication Conference (ECC:)Mediating (Dis)Continuities: Contesting Pasts, Presents and Futures, Prague, Czech Republic, 9-12 November, 2016