How Social Media Upended the Bystander Effect to Tackle a Big Problem
—and How You Can Apply the Lessons
By Andrea Morisette Grazzini
I didn’t want my family to know I was assaulted. But I can’t stay silent since seeing Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancé unconscious, Adrian Peterson’s battered son and reports of ‘hundreds’ more.
This is about power.
Spectator Power, exactly opposite of the Bystander Effect.
When would-be 'spectators’ spread those horrific images and calling foul all over the internet, Cris Carter called out his colleagues on ESPN. When they risked angering fellow fans, family and less enlightened colleagues and clients, Radisson Hotels pulled its Minnesota Vikings sponsorship, Nike pulled Peterson from product line-ups. Anheuser- Busch threatened to bench their NFL support. Until finally, Roger Goodell got it.
I wish two of my witnesses had. They’d urged me to file a police report when I hesitated, not wanting my children or my parents to know. Besides, I knew justice in gender assaults is rare. Prosecuting my offender might stop him, but not increases in assaults.
My offender is a cultural figure. A good guy, if you believe his media. After it happened, he texted me a note saying he would never want to hurt me, attaching an article featuring him helping women.
While I saw through his weak attempt to wiggle out, I also saw an opportunity. I offered he prove his integrity by joining me in a restorative justice campaign. I knew media would cover it and catalyze an important discussion. Maybe better solutions. I never succeeded convincing him.
But something similar happened recently when 'spectators' catalyzed a by-proxy blitz. Rejecting crimes of power played in sound bites, they proved caring people get cracking with public action. Like ad-hoc Super Bowl sponsors seeing daylight (on the People’s 'even-playing field' Internet) they powered through NFL’s weak defense.
Which, came full circle with this:
A new video of star players like Eli Manning, William Gay and Jason Witten joining Cris Carter for the #NOMORE meme to end to gender violence. That's the power of social media.
But even burly players can't win this one alone. Football isn’t the only foe. It’s just an example of how gender violence is carried and spreads like a social contagion. Police and programs aren’t enough of a cure. Heck, if the US military can’t kill gender assault, who can?
We can, Team America.
When an insurgence of advocates took arms against sex assaults, Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-MO) boosted their artillery. Riddling colleagues’ with victim’s statements, recruiting Republicans, she got those soldiers marching.
Soon the Pentagon cited a 50% increase in reports as proof transparent new policies work. Now they’re challenging NFL peers to join ranks.That’s a big gain. But we're still in the pre-season.
We've got to stop being fair-weather citizens. The franchise is our families and friends. We need do the right thing, even when no one’s watching.
Because our Opponent is Us.
We have to stop our bad habit of following the crowd that says these are personal problems. That we haven’t the right position, training or equipment.
· Know how to communicate? You're well trained.
· Have a heart and any working combination of: eyes, ears, mouth? That’s equipment.
· Cell phone? You can capture replays.
· Internet access? That’s the stadium.
Will there be some bruises? Yes. But the most painful will come from the no shows. This I know from personal experience.
When police asked to interview my four witnesses, all immediately agreed. Two, both women, hustled to make statements.
Both the men wimped out. One was a social-enterprise entrepreneur, one a well-educated professional. Seemingly decent, they had talked a good game, Then came seemingly innocuous defenses. “Sorry, I’ll call (the investigator) tomorrow. Been really busy.” Then contradictions: “I don’t know why they’d want to talk to me. Both eventually resorted to redirecting the blame. “You’re a smart woman! Do you really think anyone is going to believe that you let this happen?” And, “You silly idealist. What did you expect?"
“This is for all the others this and other men will prey on. Women and girls like your daughter, even boys,” I reminded them. Reasoning, “Good guys like your son are at risk for being (seen) as bad guys if men like you don’t speak up.”
“It’s too stressful,” one said. Perhaps he was afraid to break some bystander effect law.
Their behaviors were as damaging as my offender’s assault. And cost taxpayers thousands. They can’t be prosecuted for living down to social norms. But can be called out, like many called out NFL leaders for essentially the same.
I used what I had to break a silence and shed light on a hidden reality. Emailing their texts to local officials, CC-ing both men. My investigator understood, but I felt like I fumbled by dropping the case. Still, moving on seemed more productive: Raising my kids. Promising myself I’d invest everything into my start-up WetheP, so real people could create cultural solutions.
Then I saw those images of Janay Rice and Peterson’s son. When spectators, players and sponsors put themselves into play, proving interpersonal violence is an intercultural problem. Leading others, including over 95% of people we surveyed, to realize that gender assault is a cultural problem that all share.
I wanted cheer.
This was real proof ‘real people’ power. Clear evidence that we’ve got what it takes to beat gender and domestic violence, together.
If you really care, it’s time to prove it and stand up like even star football players now are.