The very worst of humanity, in one Twitter feed


(Twitter)

The cringe-inducing Twitter account @VineFights has only been online three days. But in those three days, the viral filth aggregator — think World Star Hip Hop, but for video network Vine — has racked up nearly 1,700 followers … and been retweeted well over 2,000 times.

That is frankly kind of insane, when you consider that the account’s only tweeted 13 times. If you do the math on that, each of @VineFights’ grainy, six-second videos has been shared an average of 177 times. By comparison, the last three tweets sent from @WashingtonPost, as of this writing, have earned 51, 23 and 80 shares.

Vine fights: 1. Humanity: 0.

There are two very unflattering things going on here. First, and maybe most obviously, is the gross orgy of sadism and spectacle surrounding the whole thing. Then there’s the actual genesis of the videos, themselves — each “INSANE KNOCKOUT” and “PHILLY FIGHT” is being filmed by someone who could intervene to prevent another person’s injury, but chose virality instead. One Ohio teenager even added that dubious accomplishment to his Vine profile — “btw I’m the one who filmed my friend Miranda getting hit with a shovel.” (Miranda, for the record, falls to the ground clutching her head.)

What are we to make of the account’s popularity? Or the fact that people feel compelled to film fights, at all? Psychologists have linked cellphone-filmed fights to something called “The Bystander Effect” — a long-documented phenomenon that came to light in the late ’60s when 38 witnesses failed to save a New York woman from an attacker. (She was stabbed multiple times — and later died.) People don’t want to intervene in fights, because they don’t want to get hurt, themselves. There’s also a cultural norm against “butting into” other people’s business. Essentially, intervening in a fight may be the “right” thing to do — but it offers little in social or psychological payoff.

On the other hand, a Boston University psychologist told Boston Magazine last year, society rewards the vicarious film-makers with YouTube hits or inclusion on the evening news. Given the option of calling the police or pressing “record,” many bystanders choose the latter.

Why we encourage — even embrace! — that kind of behavior remains unclear. Maybe it’s “everyday sadism,” a condition that psychologists are just beginning to document. Maybe these videos play into deep-rooted cultural stereotypes, as many critics and academics have said of the fight site World Star Hip Hop. Maybe humanity at its core is just fundamentally selfish, petty and cruel. (Welp!)

Whatever the case, Vine’s terms of use appear to allow it. So don’t expect @VineFights to disappear any time soon.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey | May 6