America has sunk to a new low.
Perhaps we thought we had witnessed that low in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election as politicians denigrate President Donald Trump, as Cabinet selectees are subjected to name-calling by opposition party members, as Hollywood’s elite suggest the White House be blown up while others enact Trump’s assassination on a video or threaten to “pimp out” the first lady.
But for those of us assuming American culture had reached the deepest depths of decline, sadly, we are wrong. An act, almost as despicable for its occurrence as it is for the observer indifference it generated, took place earlier this month.
A distraught mother in Chicago reported her 15-year-old daughter had disappeared on March 19. The next day, the girl was gang-raped by at least five or six men and/or boys. The rapes were recorded live on Facebook. But this indicator of a society’s bankrupt morality was further underscored by the fact none of the estimated 40 viewers watching even bothered to call police about what was happening.
Police only became aware of the crimes when the girl’s mother managed to take screen grab photos of the video to show them.
This is not the first time those without any sort of moral compass proved so lacking in this regard as to brazenly post live-stream videos of their crimes. In January, four young black persons were arrested after cellphone video footage emerged showing them taunting and beating a mentally disabled white man.
Hillary Clinton may not agree, but such Facebook braggarts are society’s real “deplorables” – divers into the Mariana Trench of moral depravity who pathetically embrace crimes against others as some kind of badge of honor to be shown to the world. Ironically, the 15 minutes of fame they so stupidity sought by posting their “accomplishments” on Facebook only guarantees a jury is left with little doubt as to the commission of their crimes.
The failure of any Facebook viewers watching the gang-rape to notify police brings back a haunting memory about another city suffering urban apathy 53 years ago this month.
At 3:15 a.m. on March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, 28, had parked her car after working late and was about 100 feet away from entering her New York City Queens apartment. Hearing footsteps behind her, she quickened her pace.
Unfortunately, she was caught by Winston Moseley who stabbed and raped her. Her screams resulted in neighbors looking outside their windows, but no one came to her assistance, only encouraging Moseley to continue his crime. (Moseley died a year ago, March 28, in prison at age 81.)
At the time, it was reported by the media that for 30 minutes, 38 witnesses failed to take action either to help or to notify police. Years later, a more accurate picture emerged of the incident, revealing that some witnesses did act to notify police. However, the story gained national attention for Queens as “a town without pity” where no one seemed willing to get directly involved.
The Genovese murder did result in steps being taken to motivate onlookers to take action in such situations and to be protected, depending on how involved they became. For those wishing to help while remaining anonymous, the 911 emergency line was set up. For those choosing more direct involvement, legislation known as “Good Samaritan” laws were passed.
The incident provided lots of print for psychology books concerning the phenomenon of the “bystander effect,” or “bystander apathy,” whereby onlookers fail to help one in distress.
There is an interesting aspect in comparing the failure of observers to act in the Genovese case, however, that was not present in the Facebook case, making it difficult to understand why the latter chose to do nothing.
Part of the psychological rationale for inaction during the Genovese case was that observers could see they were not the only neighbors observing what was happening. Rather than get involved, they left it to those other neighbors to act. Psychologists explain this as a “diffusion of responsibility.” In other words, people are more likely to intervene if not impacted by the presence of others – all of whom fail to act because they expect that the others will do so or else they sense help is not necessary since said others failed to act. It is a “go with the pack” mentality.
But, by this measure, every Facebook observer was a lone observer and should have been on the phone, calling in the crime. Sadly, no one did.
While it is no excuse, the callousness exhibited by the inaction of these Facebook observers may, in part, be due to the failure of the networking website to adhere to a basic standard of decency as to what can and cannot be transmitted.
A tweet earlier this month anonymously brought to the attention of Facebook for its hateful content was, shockingly, determined not to be such by the site.
A black male had posted the following on social media: “White women should be hunted and killed then we won’t get white babies who think the(y) own the world.” Facebook’s response to the complaint was, “We reviewed the comment you reported for displaying hate speech and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.”
Such a response by Facebook, especially after removing some posted Bible quotes that opposed homosexuality, suggests the carrier looks to blur the line between what should be deemed acceptable and what should not, when common sense should dictate where the line rationally should fall.
One of the best-selling novels of all time is “A Tale of Two Cities,” set during the time of the French Revolution and written in 1859 by Charles Dickens. It began with a very memorable line in which the author described an ailing yet hopeful French society: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Unfortunately, during America’s social media revolution, elements of American society, assisted by Facebook, are bringing us the worst of times.