A DIFFUSION of responsibility case made the news in Malaysia a few months ago. An Indonesian worker had suffered a stroke and collapsed at a food court which serviced mostly students from Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

It was over four hours before a group of patrons – the organising committee of a debate tournament being held at the university – approached her and called for an ambulance.

Activist Juana Jaafar, who was part of the group that helped the stricken woman, said: “The woman was actually foaming at the mouth. It was very obvious she needed medical attention.”

Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye believes that young Malaysians now are less likely to help in the event of an emergency or crime.

“They would rather tweet about the emergency. It’s a very disturbing trend,” he said. “Based on my experience, the older generation, even if they are less tech-savvy, are more willing to help.”

According to psychologist Alex Lui, the impulse to empathise with and help a person in distress has, in a way, been numbed by technology.

Alex Lui

Alex Lui

Lui believes the compulsion to capture and upload everything on social media stems from the need to feel liked.

“Even the button on Facebook says ‘Like’, right?” added Lui. “So when something shocking happens, something dramatic, you want to upload it because the chances of it being ‘Liked’ are higher. It boosts our self-esteem.”

Naturally, fear plays a major role as well in diffusion of responsibility, and Lui believes fear has grown considerably in recent years.

“Now you have all these stories about con men, people being kidnapped by hitchhikers and things like that. They really affect how we respond to such situations.”

Nevertheless, Lui believes it is unfair to say diffusion of responsibility is more likely to happen to the youth of today. They might tweet about accidents, but back in the day many would take down numbers for lottery tickets too!

“Diffusion of responsibility theory was established several decades ago. People have always been this way,” said Lui.

DSP Abdul Aziz Baba, district head of the Petaling Jaya police Crime Investigation Unit, warned people to be careful when deciding to help someone in distress.

DSP Aziz

DSP Abdul Aziz Baba

There are other factors to consider. For example, what happens if you exacerbate the condition of someone suffering from a medical problem? There are no Good Samaritan laws in Malaysia to protect you should something go wrong.

“You should always call emergency services first. You should only take action if the person’s life is in immediate danger,” said Abdul Aziz.

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