The “digital bystander effect” is a term derived from the long, well-established concept of the “bystander effect”. This phenomenon, presented by two social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané, state that “…individuals are less likely to offer assistance to a victim when others are present.” In a world that is becoming increasingly more online, guided by a generation that has, for most of their life, grown up with it, this phenomenon has evolved, turning social media into the “town square” for most individuals. Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok most notably dominate these areas, bombarding users with a never-ending slew of content to watch and engage with. Content is meticulously tweaked for “viralization” edited shorter for maximum action and seasoned with exaggerated scenarios or individuals to capture our ever-decreasing attention spans.  

In particular, personal-finance-related content became especially engaging, as online users’ stories of sky-high credit card debt, ridiculous auto-loan payments, or unsustainable influencer culture, captured and entertained online viewers. I, too, was not exempt, and would regularly peruse the comment sections of these posts. However, despite the countless likes, shares, and views, I noticed that the general sentiment towards these distressing posts was humor and even enablement of these bad habits or situations. I realized that in this seemingly unlimited content arena, the magnitude of online users would choose to amplify a diffusion of responsibility towards these calls for help, reinforcing the perception that someone else would surely intervene.  

It was this evolving digital phenomenon that I had witnessed during my senior year of high school, further amplified by the pandemic, that pushed me to search for an actionable avenue to spread my knowledge of personal finance.  

An opportunity would soon present itself as to combat my school’s lack of involvement in extracurriculars, besides sports, our school administrators created a last-minute school club system, posting and assigning a six-page-long list of new clubs to students. Club attendance was mandatory, and placements were determined via alphabetization of last names and haphazard “interest” polling. Teachers, relatively uninformed of this new system and realizing they were assigned an individual club, scrambled to come up with offerings. Finding my name stuck onto random clubs I did not select nor understand, I vowed to create one that interested me. Directed by my passion for personal finance and investing, I decided to address this evolving digital phenomenon by creating a club that informed and educated its members on the ins and outs of money.  

Kiran's Instagram, @generation_zillionaire, has been featured on Vox and other major outlets.

I dispatched a flurry of emails to teachers searching for a club advisor and managed to rope in an older teacher with a background in banking and finance. COVID restrictions, however, forced me to compact the traditional club experience providing advice, lessons, and connections delivered to members’ email inboxes. I researched and provided information on complex topics like the stock market and student loans, and made calls to expand my peers’ financial options, something very few of the members had ever considered. I learned as I built the club to leverage “hands-on” online resources and relevant cultural trends to engage club members in delivering topics in engaging and unique ways. I created a MarketWatch paper trading group competition to let members apply their knowledge in buying and selling securities and held daily discussions about exciting or confusing financial news through sources like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Yahoo Finance. I encouraged members to share financial influencers or specific posts that reflected their perspective regarding money and utilized financial satire accounts to inject humor and normalize financial jargon.  

These strategies paid off and the club’s following grew, expanding beyond the original friends I had persuaded into joining. A club that had formed as a reaction to my concern over the “digital bystander effect” became a flourishing community that fostered thoughtful discussion about penny stocks and bond markets. However, it was the short, personal messages I received from members, after I had graduated, about how the club helped them open a Roth IRA or change their perspective on money that continuously inspired me to find organizations or jobs that provide avenues in informing and reshaping how my generation views money, including creating “Generation_Zillionaire”, an Instagram account dedicated to providing young adults financial tips, trends, and tricks.

Tips for Teachers: How to Engage Students with Financial Literacy Content

Personal finance is an intimidating subject. Leveraging previous student connections to the topic, like a post of a specific influencer talking about their investing goals or debt issues, personalizes the subject and “primes” students for more engaged class discussion.

Personal finance statistics and facts can get dry fast. Instead, try incorporating interactive or practice learning tools. Instead of lecturing about budgeting, have students research big “dream” purchases like a house or a car and work backwards with this goal in mind, personalizing the subject matter.

There are plenty of modern online resources aimed at educating students about common personal finance subjects, such as Khan Academy, FoolProofMe, Jumpstart, and more!

The world of personal finance is filled with unrealistic expectations, lifestyles, and “fin-fluencers” – many of which students interact with on a daily basis. Have students analyze these posts to identify potential red flags, such as sponsored content, undisclosed information, or even fake content!

About the Author

Kiran Boggs currently attends West Virginia University where he is pursuing a B.S. in Finance along with a minor in International Business. He is currently involved with WVU’s Student Consulting Group which collaborates with industry leaders throughout West Virginia to deliver value via impactful and equitable projects. He also serves as the Vice-President of Social Media of his professional business fraternity Beta Alpha Psi and is a member of Honors Students of Color Affinity Group. 

Outside of campus, his passion for personal finance is exemplified by his Instagram account “Generation_Zillionaire ” which has earned him interviews with news publications, including VOX and EatNews, and a student-guest lecture at WVU’s 20th Annual Finance University. 

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