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The Digital Samaritans


Eldar Haber


January 5, 2021

Bystanderism is becoming largely digital. If being subjected to perilous situations was once reserved almost solely for the physical world, individuals now might witness those in peril digitally from afar via online livestreams. New technological developments in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) might also expand bystanderism to new fields, whereby machines—not just humans—are gradually positioned to better compute their surroundings, thus potentially being capable of reaching a high statistical probability that a perilous situation is currently taking place in their vicinity. This current and future expansion of bystanderism into the digital world forms a rather new type of digital bystander that might challenge the legal and social meaning of bad Samaritan laws—legal duties to act on the behalf of others in a perilous situation by reporting the events or aiding those in the perilous situation, when the burden or risk of such aid is low. With the rise in the availability of livestreaming crimes on social media platforms, and the rise in AI capabilities, the current legal framework that governs bad Samaritans might become inappropriate in regulating social behavior and personal safety, which in turn might shift to the almost sole prerogative of platform governance—transforming online users and platforms into becoming the new digital Samaritans.


Eldar Haber, The Digital Samaritans, 77 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1559 (2020).