Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 117-141

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Online Responsibility: Bad Samaritanism and the Influence of Internet Mediation

  • Saskia E. Polder-VerkielAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Delft University of Technology Email author 


In 2008 a young man committed suicide while his webcam was running. 1,500 people apparently watched as the young man lay dying: when people finally made an effort to call the police, it was too late. This closely resembles the case of Kitty Genovese in 1964, where 39 neighbours supposedly watched an attacker assault and did not call until it was too late. This paper examines the role of internet mediation in cases where people may or may not have been good Samaritans and what their responsibilities were. The method is an intuitive one: intuitions on the various potentially morally relevant differences when it comes to responsibility between offline and online situations are examined. The number of onlookers, their physical nearness and their anonymity have no moral relevance when it comes to holding them responsible. Their perceived reality of the situation and ability to act do have an effect on whether we can hold people responsible, but this doesn’t seem to be unique to internet mediation. However the way in which those factors are intrinsically connected to internet mediation does seem to have a diminishing effect on responsibility in online situations.


Responsibility Internet mediation Bad Samaritanism Kitty Genovese Abraham Biggs Bystander effect Physical distance Anonymity Ability to act Perceived reality Moral philosophy Intuitions