Values in the Conflict Between Crowdsourced Reporting and Action

This happened last weekend:

On Sunday night, Allen Haywood was randomly and viciously attacked by two kids on the platform of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. Dozens of people witnessed it. Several people filmed it. Nobody helped.

But, surely, they were helping by being brave iReporters! After all, Heisenberg told us that observation is participation! Now, we have video that can provoke the public’s hearts and minds! And evidence!

Recalling a similar situation that I was in, it concerns me that the idea of new media and ‘crowdsourced reporting’ has facilitated a very strong impulse to step back and passively document events, rather than interfere. Moreover, the media culture has rewarded this position. We step back and congratulate ourselves for having created some intangible good of awareness or social capital, and herald the new ways this was produced. Videographers seem to be more frequently interviewed than their subjects.

What people are taught is that this behavior isn’t passive — pulling out your iPhone and taking high definition video is as much of an engagement as intervening, without losing fame. Perhaps moreso, one will increase their fame! ‘The horror that I was forced to watch, safely, from a hundred feet away!’ To think, had I chosen the other option — to video innocent people being beaten randomly — how many more hits this poor, lonely blog would have gotten!

There are larger morals that should be derived from this incident. In the only article Malcom Gladwell has ever written that I enjoyed, he writes about the fallacies of digital activism being evident in the strength of network connections. He misses, likely constrained by space, another component: the unmerited sense of participation.

People who tweet at home, while the revolution is going on outside, are cowards. Those who record assaults, instead of trying to stop them, are selfish and socially negligent.

Long story short, he had the crap beaten out of him on Sunday evening around 7 p.m., at L’Enfant Plaza by a bunch of young punks, some of whom actually stood around and filmed the goddamn thing with their cellphone cameras.